The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lesson for PM amid quit talk
- After divestment, setback on AIIMS

New Delhi, July 7: The BJP described the Prime Minister as “unfit to rule the country” on a day of rumours that Manmohan Singh and finance minister P. Chidambaram had put in their papers.

As the speculation was scotched later in the day by the Prime Minister’s Office, it looked like the criticism was as much from his own Congress party as the Opposition.

In public, the party backed the Prime Minister to the hilt but one section questioned the wisdom of announcing divestment from Neyveli Lignite Corporation and Nalco when the common minimum programme prohibited this.

The programme, on the basis of which the United Progressive Alliance came into being, says there will be no divestment from profit-making public sector units.

The message from the party was that Singh could not be his own man not because he is part of a coalition alone but also because of the Congress itself. Many in the party agree with objections raised by the allies against divestment, forcing the government to put the Neyveli and Nalco exercise on hold.

All day there were rumours that Singh and Chidambaram had resigned to “protest” against the party’s “interventions” in economic policies.

The stock market plunged 258 points, a second day of decline after the divestment was shelved.

The PMO dismissed the rumours as “false and baseless” and denied that Singh had met the Congress president at her residence in the morning and put in his papers.

By evening, it was clear that Singh and Sonia wanted to put the controversy behind them. She went to Singh’s residence to attend the Friday core committee meeting of the Congress.

It is difficult to believe the divestment controversy was not discussed. There might also have been talks on finding ways to carry on reforms by staying within the common minimum programme.

Official sources said Singh would shortly convene a meeting of the UPA-Left coordination committee to take a call on divestment. They added that the exercise would be aimed at helping the finance ministry which is in “dire” need of Rs 10,000 crore to stem the rising fiscal deficit.

Singh has indicated that henceforth economic policy decisions would be taken in a “spirit of consensus” so that the Congress and its allies do not carp or protest, the sources said.

One of the Prime Minister’s main pillars of policy support, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, went on TV to assure the disappointed reform lobby.

“There is more to Indian economic reforms than divestments. Divestments are important from the resource point of view,” he said.

Word from the pro-reforms camp was that as UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi could have spoken to ally and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi and sorted things out. Karunanidhi’s threat to pull out of the government forced Singh to put the divestment in the freezer.

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