The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Left sets up Sonia date, plots strike

New Delhi, July 9: Left trade unions today pumped fuel into the Bhel divestment fire, calling a countrywide protest against the UPA government’s economic policies on September 29.

The Left leaders reiterated their decision to stay out of coordination committee meetings till the Bhel tangle was resolved. They said they would call on UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi tomorrow.

The parties had earlier written to Sonia expressing reservations about the divestment and complaining that it was a violation of the common minimum programme (CMP).

Amid indications that Sonia could make a fresh proposal, several senior Left leaders met this evening to firm up their agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. Among them were Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury of the CPM; A.B. Bardhan and D. Raja of the CPI; and Abani Roy and Manoj Bhattacharya of the RSP.

“Our stand is well known. Tomorrow we will meet the UPA chairperson and hear from her what she has to say. We will then decide,” Bardhan said after an hour-long meeting of the leaders of Left parties.

In the morning, about 1,500 delegates of central trade unions met to announce their September protest. Apart from the Left, unions from the banking sector, insurance, railways, telecom, post, petroleum and civil aviation will take part in the agitation.

“We are dead against the relaxation in labour laws given to SEZs (special economic zones) and IT industries. These are affecting jobs... and we feel these will be eventually be extended to other segments of industry,” said Aituc leader Gurudas Dasgupta, who has convened the protest.

“We are entering a phase of direct confrontation after a year of support... we will keep them (Congress) in power while starting our fight with them.”

As the unions stepped up the pressure, there were indications that sections of the Congress and the Left, tired of the ongoing spat, are pushing for a compromise.

Sources said while a section of Congressmen wanted the government to shelve the Bhel divestment for the time being, some Left leaders felt both sides should work for an amicable solution.

Although the Forward Bloc and the RSP are against any climbdown, sources said some in the CPM and the CPI could agree to a 5 per cent offloading of Bhel shares instead of 10 per cent.

But Bardhan was unbending. “We are not bargaining. The ball is in their court. It is for them to say. The CMP does not authorise you to disinvest navratna PSUs.” On what the Left parties would do if the government does not go back on its decision, he said: “We will do what we have said.”

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