The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maximum common happiness

New Delhi, May 27: The common minimum programme was released today and everyone went home happy from 7 Race Course Road, not before consecrating the occasion by sinking teeth into sweets, Sonia Gandhi included.

Of the six pillars on which the programme rests, one stands for “creative energies of entrepreneurs, businessmen” and another for “welfare of farmers, farm labourers and workers”.

It is almost as if one is Manmohan Singh and the other Harkishen Singh Surjeet. Inconceivable a few years ago, the Congress and the Left stood shoulder to shoulder to release a policy document containing vital economic issues.

The Prime Minister said: “We are committed to economic reforms. But the reforms will have a human face.”

“Human face” is a face dug out of the last phase of Congress rule in the early to mid-90s and not unknown to Manmohan Singh.

It’s a face the Left also appeared to like. “We could not have got more,” said a senior CPM politburo member.

The programme lays out six principles of governance: Preserve, protect and promote social harmony; ensure 7-8 per cent economic growth while creating jobs; enhance farmer and worker welfare; fully empower women; provide equal opportunity to backward classes and minorities and unleash the creative energies of businessmen and professionals.

Although the Left leaders looked pleased with the document, they did not sign but only “endorsed” it. “The Left parties, while broadly endorsing the CMP, have their differences on a range of economic policies. They concern privatisation in various sectors, targeted public distribution system and certain fiscal policies,” they said in a joint statement.

Sonia Gandhi, the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s chairperson, said: “The CMP was prepared after negotiations with the pre-poll allies and the Left. It reflects the mandate of the people for a strong, stable, secular government that will work and care for the farmer, the poor, the women and the youth.”

The stock market, which had reacted violently after the election results, looking for directions in the document about policies that would follow, appeared somewhat bewildered. “Meaningless platitudes,” said a broker, fearing that the market trend would remain negative.

Not all agreed, though, describing the programme as “positive in the long run”. It seems the market will wait till the budget to decipher the new government’s fingerprints.

There isn’t much that is unexpected in the programme, with a hush descending on privatisation, though not completely silencing it. “Profit-making public sector units will normally not be privatised,” it says. That does not shut out privatisation. Divestment will continue.

On labour law, the guiding principle is that reforms that do not maintain the welfare of workers will not be considered.

Officials in P. Chidambaram’s finance ministry are quite happy with the programme. They said the most successful way of earning money from divestment was by selling shares on the market, which would continue.

The BJP-led government had sold shares of several top companies early this year, fetching it over Rs 13,000 crore. On the contrary, privatisation attempts throughout 2003 could not earn even a quarter of this amount.

There is no mention of lowering the ceiling on foreign direct investment, a ticklish issue for the Left. “FDI will continue to be encouraged and sought in areas of infrastructure, high technology and exports and where local assets and employment are created,” says the document, expansively.

Similarly, the Congress has managed to retain a footnote on foreign institutional investors, who will be “encouraged”.

Ministry officials also point out that even on labour law reforms, the document does not reverse moves to relax rules for export processing zones and the information technology industry.

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