| The garbage-littered IGI airport on Friday. (AFP)
New Delhi, Feb. 3: The Left retreated in the first round of battle against privatisation of airports after the government refused to yield to its demand to hand over the job to modernise Mumbai and Delhi airports to the Airports Authority of India (AAI).
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Left leaders and the joint forum of AAI employees in two separate sessions and ruled out scrapping of the cabinet decision to award the modernisation work to private parties. But he promised that there would be no job cuts.
Ironically, the Left’s protests were directed not against job loss but privatisation. At the end of three days of strike, it returned empty handed on its core demand.
While the face-off again highlighted differences between the Centre and its ally, the Left, the Congress played on Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s apology at a meeting in Calcutta for the inconvenience caused to participants who were flying into the city to suggest a division even within the CPM.
Spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said the Left should give up its “politics of protest” as the government was merely giving final shape to the airport modernisation in the public interest. “There is a time and place when the politics of protest ought to stop. When a process is conceived and implemented in public interest, everyone concerned should sit back and appreciate.”
The Left has backed the stop-work by airport employees against awarding the task of modernising Delhi and Mumbai airports to private parties.
Singhvi added: “In the context, I would echo the views of the Bengal chief minister. We have to think of public convenience and the larger good of the people.”
Coming from the head of a government, which is expected to ensure smooth conduct of life, Bhattacharjee’s apology is not too surprising ' even as a party the CPM has expressed regret for the inconvenience caused to passengers while iterating support for the agitating employees.
But its critics will pounce on the perceived difference between the chief minister and the party. All of it is not “perception” either, but reality.
There are differences between Bhattacharjee’s position on economic issues and of that of some of his colleagues in the party.
In any case, though the Left supported the airport agitation, they were not too sure of the employees’ ability to continue it for long. The Left leadership as well as the employees’ leaders needed a face-saving way out of a battle they seemed to be losing.
It came in the Prime Minister’s assurance that jobs would be protected ' it was merely an iteration of a commitment made by the civil aviation minister even earlier.
The Left also claimed it had extracted an assurance from the Prime Minister that the Mumbai-Delhi modernisation model was not going to be repeated for the airports in Calcutta and Chennai.
“The government agreed this would be a one-time exception,” said a Left leader.
However, once a process gets going, it is difficult to stop. Even if this model is not adopted for Calcutta, particularly because of the Left presence there, other airports could take it up.