The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Escape hatch in Sangh selloff protest

New Delhi, Sept. 6: On the eve of the crucial meeting of the Cabinet committee on disinvestment to decide the sale of Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum, the RSS today joined the chorus of protest against the handing over of public sector oil companies to private hands.

The RSS demanded that oil should be deemed an area of “strategic” importance on a par with railway and defence production, in which the government would have the final say on policy and management. But it underlined that it was not against disinvestment per se and saw no harm in offloading a certain percentage of shares of even oil PSUs, provided the government continued to retain its hold over the companies.

Addressing the media, RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya said: “In principle, we are not against disinvestment because we don't have the ideal of a socialist model of economy. Therefore, we are against governmentalisation of all means of production and distribution, which is the essence of the socialist model of economy.”

But, he added: “We don’t completely rule out government’s role in the economy. The strategic sector is one where the government alone should have a role to play, like railway and defence production. Oil sector is one of such strategic areas of importance. So this view should be taken into consideration when the oil sector privatisation is aimed at or implemented.”

Vaidya raised the following points against oil sector disinvestment:

n“By privatising, are we careful we are not creating monopolies'” he asked.

The only concession the RSS leader offered was offloading a maximum of 25 per cent shares of such companies, provided the government evolved a mechanism to continue controlling them. “We know how big industrial houses control industry with just 20 per cent shares,” he said.

n“Would workers’ interests be safeguarded after divestment'” he asked.

n“In fixing reserve price, it is not sufficient to only take note of shares, but also the market value of the whole unit,” he stressed.

The suggestion of partial offloading of oil shares was construed by the BJP as a sign that the RSS’ opposition would not be total and if a compromise was thrashed out, the saffron organisation would be prepared to accept it.

Petroleum minister Ram Naik spoke to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani after he returned from Brazil and is understood to have iterated his position against the “strategic sale” of equity in oil PSUs.

Before the Cabinet committee meets at 6 pm, a high-level ministerial core group, comprising the Prime Minister, the deputy Prime Minister, defence minister George Fernandes and finance minister Jaswant Singh, is expected to go into a huddle. BJP sources claimed the matter would be resolved.

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