The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singh left with policy option

New Delhi, Oct. 2: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is considering if it is possible to formally involve the Left in policy-making.

The suggestion was made by the Left parties at yesterday's breakfast meeting. Singh, who wants to keep them in good humour, is 'open' to the proposal but the nitty-gritty could be a problem, sources said.

This would be more than a consultative or advisory forum, the sources said. If the plan works out, the Left parties could have access to papers and other resource materials and be involved in every process of policy-making, something the existing Left-United Progressive Alliance coordination committee does not authorise.

So far, no coalition government has engaged a party offering outside support directly in policy-framing. But the Left leaders argued that such involvement would ensure a 'smoother' equation.

'Policy-making has a broad brush-stroke connotation. It means not just economics and finance but security, foreign policy, education, health, rural development etc. If a party is part of the government, its ministers can summon papers, documents etc. Can an outside supporting party do it' a source asked, pointing out that these aspects would have to be worked out.

While the Telugu Desam Party was integral to the existence of the previous NDA government, it never asked to be a part of policy-making, not even when issues like secularism were involved. '. Chandrababu Naidu's only interest was getting more grants, funds and rice from the Centre. The Left is a different kettle of fish,' the source said.

To keep the Left happy, Singh is reported to have impressed upon finance minister P. Chidambaram and Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia that they should be in regular touch with its leaders.

The Prime Minister is also keen to dispel the impression that the plan panel decision to dissolve all consultative groups was not taken well by the Left, whose support is crucial to the government.

Sources close to Singh said his own view was that the plan panel episode was 'nobody's victory or defeat'. 'He saw himself in the role of a reconciler in a coalition of disparate perspectives and felt that in the circumstances, disbanding the committees was the only way out. From the beginning, the Prime Minister felt the controversy was highly avoidable and the Planning Commission need not have constituted the committees,' a source said.

Singh's idea of being a 'conciliator' is fashioned after P.V. Narasimha Rao, in whose cabinet he was finance minister. At an AICC convention in Tirupati in 1992, the then Prime Minister had described himself as a 'middle-of-the-roader' after the Congress regrouped itself into 'economic Rightists' and 'Leftists'.

'He (Singh) has decided to hear out everyone ' Left, Right, centre and Congress ginger groups ' and then take a view which will fill fit into his vision of what the nation should be,' a source said.

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