The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Loud hints of Bhel silent deal
The Left leaders are hopeful that the
matter will be amicably resolved

New Delhi, July 10: The spat between the Left and the coalition government over Bhel divestment is likely to be resolved after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from the US in the third week of July.

The contours of a possible formula that weighs heavily in favour of the opponents of divestment emerged after coalition chairperson Sonia Gandhi met Left leaders at her residence.

During the hour-long meeting, Sonia proposed a partial rollback of Bhel divestment from 10 to 5 per cent, sources said. However, the Left leaders turned down the proposal.

The sources said with the Left refusing to budge, the government has indicated that it would keep the decision to sell the shares on hold.

No public announcement of the “suspension” of the divestment will be made as it will be a loss of face for the government, especially in the run-up to the Prime Minister’s impending visit to the US.

The cabinet had cleared the divestment proposal, prompting the Left to suspend its participation in a committee formed to coordinate with the ruling coalition.

The government will, however, make an announcement that no navratnas ' profit-making public sector showpieces ' would henceforth be divested and the common minimum programme will be strictly adhered to.

Divestment in profit-making public sector units is a grey area in the minimum programme and is open to interpretation.

If the deal does not run into stiff opposition from finance minister P. Chidambaram and is endorsed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Left can claim to be the winner of the showdown.

No political leader spoke of a give and take but sources from both sides said the Indo-US defence agreement, which has drawn fire from the Left, did not come up for discussion and the meeting confined itself to Bhel. The Prime Minister is leaving for the US on July 16.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said Sonia has assured the Left that she would talk to the Prime Minister and get back to them.

Countering the view that a cabinet decision should not be tampered with, the Left leaders told Sonia that in a democracy, the government should heed public opinion. Therefore, the divestment decision can be reversed, they added.

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