The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal takes Sangh insurance

New Delhi, July 14: When in power, pursue reform; once out of government, oppose it. This is the dictum followed by the BJP, like all parties.

After outpacing P.V. Narasimha Rao on economic liberalisation for six years, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today declared that the BJP will oppose the increase in the foreign direct investment limit in insurance, telecom and aviation announced by finance minister P. Chidambaram last week.

Hum virodh karenge,” Vajpayee told reporters after a meeting of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders to discuss the FDI cap and the unilateral scrapping of water-sharing agreements by the Punjab government.

Unlike other budget initiatives, Chidambaram’s proposal to raise the FDI ceiling in insurance from 26 per cent to 49 per cent requires an amendment to a law passed by Parliament, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act.

A senior party functionary said the “Vajpayee line” would prevail when the amendment is put to vote in the House.

With the Left going all out to oppose the increase in the FDI limit in all three sectors, the United Progressive Alliance government was reported to be banking on the NDA to bail it out.

But when the matter came up in a BJP parliamentary party meeting yesterday, sharp divisions surfaced and a majority of the members felt the party should vote against the amendment. Sources said Vajpayee — on an overdrive to make up with the RSS after the election defeat — decided to “respect” the majority view.

The reform group of former finance ministers Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha as well as Arun Jaitley and Arun Shourie argued in favour of backing Chidamabaram’s move. Their argument was that one electoral setback must not force the party to change its economic stand evolved after years of debating what was feasible: the swadeshi line or globalisation and reforms.

The BJP, they contended, must continue to be taken seriously by the movers and shakers of the economy.

Pro-reform votaries felt that while the BJP could go back to Hindutva on issues like Ayodhya and a common civil code, economics must be kept separate from politics. “Hindutva and reforms can co-exist,” a source said.

But those against the move felt that when in Opposition, the BJP should “behave like one” and not come to the government’s rescue. “After all, when our government had to pass the insurance amendment, the Congress forced us to limit the cap to 26 per cent and we agreed,” a source said.

The BJP also needs to take “care of” the sentiments of the RSS and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch as well as allies Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal (United) who are against the hike, they said.

“Why allow the Left to take up the anti-reform space'” was one view in the party. The Left, which is supporting the Congress-led government from outside, has threatened to vote against the amendment bill in Parliament.

Another emerging opinion was that the BJP should keep up its opposition and see if the Congress-led government can work on a “compromise” with the Left to reduce the limit and get its support. “If that does not happen, we can always review our position in the penultimate hour,” a source said.


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