Tuesday, April 9, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sinha to come under fire in Goa
BJP National Executive meeting
Satish Misra and T.V. Lakshminarayan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 8
Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha will find it hard to discard his reputation as a “rollback minister” with an angry and vociferous section of the BJP sharpening its knife against the “anti-middle class” measures in the recent Budget proposals.

In the very first round, Mr Sinha was compelled to roll back the prices of cooking gas by Rs 20 per cylinder after the powerful allies of the BJP-led coalition, the Telugu Desam and the Trinamool Congress, raised the banner of revolt against the move.

At the party’s National Executive meeting in Goa, beginning on April 12, the Finance Minister will be under pressure to review his decision to cut interest rates on small savings and dilute the tax concessions available on investments made on long-term savings instruments like life insurance policies.

Senior party functionaries said the economic resolution at the Goa meeting would be significant as several members are insisting that the government should change its anti-middle class stance and guard against erosion of its electorate.

A former Delhi Chief Minister, Mr Sahib Singh Verma, who recently tendered his resignation as the Vice-President of the BJP, told The Tribune that the middle class constituted the backbone of the party.

Delhi was an example where the BJP had never been let down by the electorate. But the humiliating defeat of the party at the recent municipal elections in Delhi shows that the electorate has not taken the Union Budget proposals in their stride.

Mr Verma, along with other leaders like Mr Madan Lal Khurana, will be meeting Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and other senior ministers to convince them of the need to reverse policies which affect their vote base.

The cut in interest rates is another issue that will be raised at the Goa meeting. Mr Verma pointed out that recently he had got a letter from a retired citizen whose monthly income from fixed deposits had dropped by Rs 6,000 following the Budget proposals. “We would demand that senior citizens’ interest should be fully protected and they should not be subject to such volatilities”, Mr Verma said.

The decision to reduce income-tax exemptions on savings instruments like life insurance and the taxation on dividend income at the hands of individual investors should also be reversed, the former Chief Minister said. Similarly, former Rajasthan BJP President Ramdas Agarwal is also said to be agitated over Mr Sinha’s Budget.

Apart from senior leaders in the BJP, the trade unions affiliated to the party are also opposed to the Budget proposals. It was only last week that Mr Dattopant Thengady called Mr Sinha an agent of the World Trade Organisation. Several party leaders are of the view that Mr Sinha has failed to balance the compulsions of politics with the compulsions of economy.

There are indications that the debate on the economic resolution will be stormy. However, it remains to be seen what stand the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, takes. He had defended the Union Budget proposals last month. The outcome of the meeting will depend on what signals Mr Vajpayee sends out.

Insiders point out that the electoral compulsions are not lost on to the Prime Minister. It was he who was responsible for rolling back LPG prices. It was under his chairmanship that the Union Cabinet decided to sanction a higher minimum support price for wheat, more than what was recommended by the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices.Back

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