The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani scores double hit

New Delhi, Oct. 4: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has “killed two birds with one stone” by teaming up with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on disinvestment.

On Wednesday, they together watched the telecast of K.S. Sudarshan’s address, in which the RSS chief made a bitter attack on the backers of globalisation, and decided that the damage had to be controlled before a negative signal went out. Vajpayee’s spirited defence of economic reforms emanated from the “confidence” that he had his deputy on his side, sources said.

Since the debate on privatisation of the oil sector started, Advani has kept his counsel. He spoke up only at an informal meeting of the top brass that preceded the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment last month, which deferred a decision on divesting Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum.

Although Advani has not spelt out his stand in public, BJP sources said a statement released by party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu in Pondicherry yesterday reflected his views. It said divestment was an accepted policy of the NDA government and “there is no question of going back on it”.

Sources said Advani had succeeded in “isolating” Vajpayee in the Cabinet committee meeting by being silent when petroleum minister Ram Naik and urban development minister Ananth Kumar argued against oil sector divestment.

At the informal sitting in the Prime Minister’s residence, Advani had come up with what appeared like the “perfect compromise” — get ONGC to bid for one of the two oil companies and put the other up for strategic sale. Even Naik was ready to accept his solution as the “last word”, a minister said. “After Advaniji has spoken, what more is left to be said'” Naik reportedly said.

But in the crucial Cabinet meeting, Advani did not say a word, the minister added. He did not even intervene when the relatively junior Ananth Kumar “peremptorily” told Vajpayee he should hear out “all points of view” before taking a decision.

Having made the point that he could not be overruled, Advani proceeded to back Vajpayee against Sudarshan. Three reasons are being given for this support. For one, he is no longer as close to the RSS chief as to the votaries of realpolitik, Madan Das Devi and H.V. Seshadri. As Vajpayee’s “natural successor”, it is no surprise that Advani feels “more comfortable with the pragmatic section of the RSS”.

Sources said that if Advani was to be taken seriously as Vajp ayee’s successor, he had to establish his pro-reforms credentials.

Finally, with human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi emerging as Sudarshan’s favourite — after opposing the strategic sale — there was disquiet among Advani’s acolytes that the succession line may get blurred yet again. For a few years, Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi formed a troika but Joshi was relegated to the margins after Advani was redesignated.

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