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Tuesday, December 8, 1998
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Thakre asks MPs to back insurance Bill
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 7 — In a complete reversal of the party’s long-held stand on the foreign entry in the vital domestic insurance sector, the Bharatiya Janata Party President, Mr Kushabhau Thakre, today asked the party MPs to fully back the Insurance Regulatory Authority Bill for ensuring its passage.

In a statement circulated to the media, Mr Thakre said: " The Union Cabinet has taken a unanimous decision in the matter according to its own best judgement of the compulsions of the economy. It is therefore necessary that all Members of Parliament belonging to the BJP and its allies fully back the Bill when it is introduced and ensure its successful passage." Blaming the media for giving "an incorrect slant" to his statement on the Insurance Bill yesterday suggesting a "non-existent" confrontation between the Government and the party, the BJP President said the Government was the best judge of the need for such a Bill.

However, Mr Thakre reiterated that prior consultations between the Government and the party would have prevented unnecessary speculations in the media and political circles.

Talking to newspersons, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Madan Lal Khurana, said as of today the Bill would be introduced in its original form this week.

Consultations with all political parties, including allies, were continuing for evolving a consensus on the issue, Mr Khurana said adding that parleys with the Congress were over. Mr Khurana and the party Vice-President, Mr K.L. Sharma had a tough time answering newspersons’ questions on the party’s total volte face on the foreign entry in the insurance sector.

When Mr Sharma asserted that there was no difference between the Government and the party on the issue, newspersons asked him if various statements in the past few days by the party MPs like Mr K.R. Malkani, Mrs Sumitra Mahajan, Mr Virendra Singh and the Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Ms Uma Bharati, reported in the media, were not made at all.

To this, Mr Sharma had nothing to say. "That was party’s old stand on the issue", he said adding that the party would back all the decisions taken by the Union Cabinet.

Mr Sharma said the Government had taken the decision in the national interest.

Asked if the party was prepared to admit its mistake as it had earlier held that the foreign entry in the insurance sector was against the national interest, Mr Sharma said that the situation had changed now.

Exhausted by media’s onslaught on the issue, Mr Sharma said "it was not necessary to tell you any further".

The opening up of the insurance sector for foreign equity figured neither in the BJP’s manifesto nor was it mentioned in the National Agenda for Governance.

The BJP had also opposed an earlier Bill during the United Front government saying that it was a "sellout".back


Cong yet to take stand
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec 7 — Considering an element of opposition within the party over opening up of the insurance sector to foreign companies, the Congress plans to have a detailed discussion on it before formulating its stand on the proposed Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) Bill.

The Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi is understood to have agreed to suggestions from MPs that the party should discuss the matter.

Party sources said several MPs, who met her today, had suggested discussion on the IRA Bill which has generated divergent views within the party.

A section of senior leaders was not in agreement with a proposal to open up the sector to foreign investors. There was a stalemate at a recent meeting of the Parliamentary Affairs Committee on the subject.

In fact, the Congress President is reported to have countered those voiced opinions against the opening up of the sector, by pointing out the party’s promise in the manifesto.

The party in its manifesto for the 1998 general elections had promised to make the IRA a statutory body and open up the health insurance and pensions business to other Indian companies, both in the public and private sector.

The manifesto also said over the next two to three years, the life insurance industry will also be restructured to enhance consumer choice. Joint ventures in the insurance businesses will be allowed with majority equity with Indian companies.

Recently, the economic affairs department of the Congress has prepared a two-page note, which was circulated among the CWC and MPs of the party, making out a case for the Congress to press for liberalisation in the insurance industry.

Officially, the Congress today maintained that the party’s response will be firmed up after the Government introduces the Bill.

"The Congress is yet to take a stand and we will take a view after it (the Bill) is introduced," the party spokesman, Mr Ajit Jogi said.

Pointing out to the contradictions that exist within the allies of the BJP on the issue, the Congress spokesman also criticised the "go-by given by the Cabinet to the principle of collective responsibility".

He said the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes and the Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Ms Uma Bharti, have openly criticised decision to introduce the IRA Bill.

"This is not healthy for democracy and if any minister does not agree they should quit," Mr Jogi said.

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