The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Power clash, not policy

New Delhi, Sept. 7: A section of the BJP described it as a “battle between ideology and ego”. But in the end the events leading to the deferment of the disinvestment decision on HPCL and BPCL proved that ideology had little to do with it and personalities and the power struggle within the NDA everything.

The postponement was touted by some in the BJP as a “loss of face for Arun Shourie” (the disinvestment minister) and a “victory” for defence minister George Fernandes.

Because of Fernandes’ status as the NDA convener, Vajpayee was unprepared to take his objections lightly, though by “instinct” the Prime Minister was believed to be “pro-disinvestment” and fond of Shourie.

Fernandes had expressed fears that the disinvestment would create private monopolies and have adverse implications for national security.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani — with whom, too, Shourie shares a rapport — was expected to back him. BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, who had a short stint in the disinvestment ministry, was another supporter. As the party’s chief spokesman, Jaitley offered unqualified backing to Shourie. To the party’s surprise, a press release he issued did not mention the “security angle”.

“Our hunch is that the only person from whom he took inputs was Shourie, and Advani must have eventually okayed the release,” BJP sources said.

What upset the BJP was Jaitley’s alleged failure to read the party’s “sentiments”. “No one is against disinvestment. But once Fernandes pointed out how during the 1965 and 1971 wars, oil, which was then in the hands of multinational companies, was not made available to the government and, therefore, the sector was later nationalised, the BJP should have immediately called a meeting to discuss this important matter,” the sources said.

Although Advani never gave the impression he was on Shourie’s side, the BJP interprets Vajpayee’s asking him to reconcile the contradictions as indication that the deputy Prime Minister was “not just another onlooker”. Shourie himself said a disinvestment calendar prepared by his ministry had Advani’s approval.

The episode could redefine the power equations in the NDA and the parivar. For one, it marks the return of Fernandes, who had retreated from the coalition centrestage after Tehelka.

Vajpayee has emerged a victor in that he has kept the RSS on the right side. He also invited Fernandes and M.M. Joshi to today’s meeting of the Cabinet committee on disinvestment, a sure sign that neither would be on the margins as was thought when Advani became the deputy.

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