The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt leaves Left behind on reforms
Singh: Thank you for your support but reforms will continue

New Delhi, Feb. 11: More conflict may be in the offing between the government and the Left on economic reforms.

Finance minister P. Chidambaram today told CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan to be ready for foreign investment in private banks.

He turned down Bardhan's request to go 'slow' on initiatives to attract more foreign investment, a couple of days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh placed on the table the agenda for the next months for the government to follow.

Foreign investment is one of the components of the agenda that lists several reform measures, over which there are differences with the Left allies.

The Left has yet to come to terms with the government's decision to raise the foreign investment ceiling in telecom when the finance minister's notice to be prepared for some more shocks comes.

Chidambaram met Bardhan this morning to discuss aspects of the coming budget and signalled the government's resolve to push ahead with reforms, despite the Left's protests.

That he chose to deliver the message to Bardhan is also important as the CPI leader is among the staunchest critics of some of the government's economic policies. He has warned the government that if it chose to ignore the Left's objections, it should be prepared to face 'bad days'.

Sources said Chidambaram told Bardhan the government cannot hold back on measures to relax rules as American investors are 'waiting in the wings' to invest in the country.

'The finance minister is not budging from his stand,' said a Left leader.

Bardhan told Chidambaram that the government's moves on foreign investment policy were leaving the Left with no option other than to be critical.

The minister told him the Left's criticism would not stop banking reforms. The Left is opposed to divestment of shares in government-owned banks, foreign investment in private banks and mergers.

Bardhan's speech at a party conference in Andhra Pradesh seems to have raised the hackles of not only Chidambaram but also the Prime Minister.

Chidambaram told the CPI leader that the Prime Minister had called him up after Bardhan's remarks. He said Singh was 'offended' that Bardhan had pointed a finger at three people in his speech ' the Prime Minister, finance minister and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Planning Commission boss.

The CPI leader said if he was speaking on economic policy, these were the three people he would obviously name.

Singh had called Bardhan, too, and wanted to know what the CPI leader meant by 'bad days'.

Since then, Bardhan seems to have toned down his attack. 'It was a friendly warning,' he said today.

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