New Delhi, Oct. 22: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s warning and Lal Krishna Advani’s exhortation to ministers to keep their mouths shut in public on the divestment controversy are being defied nearly every day.
Fire-spewing coal and mines minister Uma Bharti today unleashed the latest salvo in her continuing battle with disinvestment minister Arun Shourie over selling government shares in the aluminium company Nalco, under her charge.
Opposed to the Nalco divestment, she accused Shourie, without naming him, of acting like God. Bharti may be aware or not but, as the writer of Worshipping False Gods on B.R. Ambedkar, the journalist-turned-minister is better known for pulling down idols.
Flanked by Ravi Shankar Prasad, her junior minister, Bharti addressed a news conference to trumpet the ministry’s achievements on completion of the Vajpayee government’s three years in office.
In building up a case against divestment, she trotted out Nalco’s performance figures, saying that profit had increased in the last three years to Rs 403 crore, Rs 655 crore and Rs 511 crore.
She referred to Shourie’s statement that Nalco would start suffering losses if privatisation was delayed.
Incandescent in her saffron attire, Bharti belched out: “I am a sanyasin. Those who predict like this want to assume the role of God.”
Last Saturday, it had been Shourie’s turn to violate the public instruction given by the Prime Minister before he left for his recent trip to Europe that ministers ranged against each other in the debate over divestment should not do the clawing in the open.
In the context of one of Bharti’s reported statements earlier, in which she had said that anyone trivialising her struggle over Nalco would bite the dust, Shourie had wondered aloud if she meant the Prime Minister, who has been openly supportive of divestment.
Bharti had replied to that slur by saying that Vajpayee’s name was being unnecessarily dragged into this. Today, she was cautious enough not to be drawn into direct comments over divestment, stonewalling all questions with the reply that first she would hold discussions with Vajpayee and Advani.
“My ministry has some good suggestions and there are some reservations (about divestment) even before I took charge of the ministry. I will place them before the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister,” she said.
She has earlier made clear that she is not opposed to divestment as a concept but only to the procedure being adopted, which is what defence minister George Fernandes and petroleum minister Ram Naik have also been saying.
While Fernandes and Naik have held their silence of late, not so Bharti and Shourie.