The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM readies ‘carrot & reason’ for Left

New Delhi, July 4: The government seems keen to create a “Left-friendly” ambience before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi meet Left leaders to discuss divestment in Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (Bhel).

Highly-placed official sources said Singh wants to resolve the matter ' or at least trace the contours of a resolution ' before he leaves for Scotland to attend the G8 summit on July 6.

He will return on July 10 and leave for the US on July 16. The six-day interregnum will give him just about enough time to effect the much-awaited cabinet shuffle, fine-tune details of his US programme and prepare for the monsoon session of Parliament which begins on July 25, three days after he returns from America.

The sources said Singh wants to end the stand-off over Bhel for several reasons. First, to allay the feeling that the government’s stability was getting undermined. Second, to find a mutually-acceptable solution in which the Centre would not have to dump the Bhel decision but simultaneously reassure the Left that there will not be any future divestment in profit-making public sector enterprises, including the “navratnas”. Bhel is one of the nine.

Third, the government would have to find a way of packaging the decision in a way no questions are raised on the direction and contents of its economic priorities and policies.

The sources said Singh’s approach towards the Left would be one of “carrot and reason”. They stressed that he had no intention of playing on “real” or “imagined” splits in the Left bloc on the Bhel divestment. But the Prime Minister, they added, would nonetheless impress on the leaders the ways in which CPM-led Bengal has benefited from the Centre’s “largesse” in the last six months.

The sources said the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government had given a wish list and cited examples to show that most of its requests were met.

Bhattacharjee wanted the Teesta irrigation project to be declared a national project and sought a special grant of Rs 330 crore. The Centre decided to include it in the “fast- track” scheme and grant the money required.

In the power sector, he wanted deemed export benefits to be granted to the Bakreshwar thermal power project and mega power project status to the Purulia pumped storage project.

An official “action taken” note said the first was conceded through a notification and would reduce the project cost by Rs 90-95 crore, the second would be okayed as soon as the final condition ' earmarking 15 per cent of the power generated by the Purulia project to other states in the region ' was fulfilled. This measure would lead to cost reduction of 15 per cent for the Rs 3,000-crore hydro project.

According to Bhattacharjee’s request, the road transport and highways ministry will commence “preparatory activities” on the Rs 650-crore inter-link between National Highways 34 and 117.

The sources explained that the sub-text of the benefits accruing to the Bengal government was an “unstable” Centre would do little or no good to it in the run-up to the Assembly elections because it would help the entry of “third-front” players in the political arena. The BJP, for instance, they pointed out, was hoping the Left would withdraw support, which would pave the way for the emergence of a “third front” of existing UPA constituents and prospective ones from the National Democratic Alliance.

The sources said the main point the Prime Minister would convey to the Left leaders was that divestment was not “ideological” but a mechanism to raise resources to fund the very projects that were dear to the Left such as the employment guarantee and food-for-work schemes.

While diluting the proposed divestment from 10 per cent to 5 per cent was being contemplated, the sources said Singh wanted to seek a long-term policy on divestment instead of handling it on a case-to-case basis.

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