New Delhi, June 27: Manmohan Singh is a patient man but his Left allies have run his patience thin with persistent attacks on the government’s economic policies. The Prime Minister has virtually challenged the Left to pull down his government in light of their relentless criticism.
Senior CPI leader D. Raja met Singh with a delegation of college teachers today. The conversation between the Prime Minister and Raja on the sidelines of the meeting indicated that Singh had decided not to give the Left concessions on policies like divestment from public sector units that are not among the navratnas, or the nine untouchables.
The Prime Minister asked Raja what the Left planned to “do” about his government. In other words, whether the Left was moving towards pulling it down.
When Raja told the Prime Minister that the Left had no intention of doing that, Singh asked: “Why not'”
He said one or the other of the Left parties ' the CPM or the CPI ' made strident statements almost every day attacking the government. In that statement, there was the latent query what was the guarantee that the Left would continue support for another three years since it was so strongly opposed to the government’s policies.
Raja told him the Left was not “yet ready” to take such a step. That is to be read as saying there is no alternative for the Left than to support the Congress-led government as it does not want the BJP to return. The possibility of a non-Congress, non-BJP third front is remote at this point, though noises are being made, not the least by the Left itself.
Only the other day, it decided to ally with estranged friend N. Chandrababu Naidu, once in the so-called third front, to fight the panchayat elections in Andhra Pradesh against the Congress.
The latest provocation from the Left forms the background to the Prime Minister’s remarks to Raja.
Last week, the govern-ment announced 10 per cent divestment from Nalco and Neyveli Lignite Corporation, neither of which is a navratna company but both are profit making.
The Left had earlier objected to divestment from profit-making PSUs when finance minister P. Chidambaram proposed it. In spite of that, the government went ahead in a signal that the Prime Minister was overruling the Left’s objection. The Left shouted breach of commitments made in the common minimum programme.
A week before the divestment decision, the govern- ment had refused to heed the Left’s demand to not raise petroleum product prices and to cut central duties instead.
The Prime Minister asked Raja the reasons for the Left’s opposition since the government would continue to have over 76 per cent equity even after divestment. He ruled out a rethink though the Left parties and their trade unions have threatened to intensify protests.
The Left argues that divestment from profit-making PSUs bit by bit is a route to eventual privatisation. It happened in the case of Maruti where the Japanese partner Suzuki had less than 50 per cent. “The process of divestment went on till it was taken over fully by Suzuki,” said a senior Left leader.