The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Left flashes fleeting honeymoon warning

New Delhi, May 25: The Left has cautioned finance minister P. Chidambaram that the honeymoon period of the new government will not last long, telling him to prove its pro-people credentials with policies in two-three months.

Chidambaram, who was finance minister in the United Front government backed by the Left, called on CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan and senior leader D. Raja this evening to seek co-operation.

Bardhan laid the cards on the table. He told Chidambaram the budget would be a litmus test for the government, suggesting that he launch a massive safe drinking water programme.

The Congress has accommodated most of the key suggestions made by the CPI in the draft common minimum programme that will be the policy document of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Holding a politburo meeting in Calcutta, the CPM suggested that it was in broad agreement with the draft programme, but would seek some changes or additions.

“They have incorporated 95 per cent of our suggestions,” said Raja, referring to the fourth draft of the programme that has been handed to his party. Labour law reforms, one potentially fractious area, came in for amendments in this draft.

The second draft had said: “The UPA rejects the idea of automatic hire-and- fire. But it recognises that some flexibility has to be provided to industry in the matter of labour policy.” The draft added: “Such flexibility, however, must ensure that the workers and their families are fully protected.”

“Flexibility” is the word the Left did not like, keen as it was to plug any gap that leaves scope for easy hire-and-fire. The CPI asked the Congress to delete the word flexibility. “Flexibility should be substituted with the statement that the rights and benefits of workers shall not be taken away or curtailed. There should be tripartite consultations with trade unions and industry on all proposals,” the CPI said.

It seems the word has been removed from the draft programme, which has now incorporated the suggestion of tripartite talks.

In foreign affairs, the second draft was silent on India’s policy towards West Asia. The Left wants the government to distance itself from Israel and renew support to Palestinians. The latest draft speaks of giving a push to India’s relations with West Asia.

One area where difference still persists is divestment and the latest draft is silent on it. The Left is totally opposed to any kind of divestment or privatisation of profit-making public sector units, but the Congress does not wish to make any such blanket commitment.

It wishes to continue with the sale of shares of profit-making companies without wholesale privatisation. “The Congress is still to respond to our demand on this,” Raja said.

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