New Delhi, Feb. 19: Two NDA allies — the Shiv Sena and the Samata Party — today joined the Opposition clamour against the Centre’s disinvestment policy and charged minister Arun Shourie with hoodwinking them.
The reaction of A.B. Vajpayee’s partners to the disinvestment policy showed that the fractious matter is far from settled. The government may have to continue the tight-rope walk on disinvestment in the coming days.
The issue came up during question hour when the Opposition demanded that attorney-general Soli Sorabjee be summoned to the House on the BPCL and HPCL selloff. Shourie had just quoted the attorney-general’s opinion that the government need not pass a legislation to back disinvestment of public sector undertakings.
RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said: “Why can’t the government summon the attorney-general to the House'”
The demand was immediately taken up by the rest of the Opposition, particularly the Congress and the Left. “We would like to hear the attorney-general speak on the floor of the House. He is undoubtedly a competent lawyer but a different opinion on the issue has been given by Fali S. Nariman, another equally competent lawyer,” said Congress deputy leader Shivraj Patil.
The refrain was echoed by the Sena and the Samata, both of whom have been persistently opposing the disinvestment policy. “We will never accept this decision. It has affected Maharashtrian workers more than anybody else. We want to ask the government what will it do about these workers'” asked Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire. Shourie replied: “This is not a Marathi-non-Marathi issue. All workers are equally important.”
At this point, Samata’s Prabhunath Jha, too, opposed the government decision.
Telugu Desam MP M.V.V.S. Murthy wanted to know if the government had sorted out the inter-ministerial hitches over the decision. “The Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment took the decision after consulting all the ministries concerned,” Sho-urie said. He added that an urge to put national assets to optimum use had prompted the decision to put the two major public sector companies on the block.
Patil argued that the government had decided to nationalise the units after the 1971 war on the ground that privatisation will endanger national security. But Shourie retorted: “The war was in 1971 and these companies were nationalised three or four years later.”