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Left’s jolt to UPA
To stay away from coordination committee meetings
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 26
Relations between Left parties and the UPA today touched a new low with the Communists deciding to stay away from the coordination committee meetings as the Congress-led coalition government has decided to go ahead with the disinvestment of 10 per cent of its stake in the profit-making public sector undertaking BHEL.

In a damage control exercise, Congress party spokesperson Ambika Soni said the UPA would find a way out to address the concerns of the Left parties.

Terming the Manmohan Singh government’s disinvestment move as “a serious breach of promises made in the common minimum programme (CMP)”, which forms the basis of Left parties’ outside support to the coalition, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said “the government is going ahead with its policy decisions contrary to the CMP, despite our protests”.

“No useful purpose will be served in attending meetings of the coordination committee. Therefore we have decided to regretfully suspend our participation in the coordination committee,” he said, after the leaders of the four Left parties — CPI(M), CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and All-India Forward Bloc, — met this morning to finalise their strategy.

“Nothing is beyond resolution. It can be resolved and it will be resolved. There was no question of anyone taking anyone else for granted and doors and windows of UPA leaders are not closed,” Congress spokesperson said.

The Left leaders, who have written a letter to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in this regard, however, ruled out any immediate move to withdraw support to the UPA government.

The four Left parties have over 60 MPs in the Lok Sabha and are crucial to the government’s survival.

The Left leaders gave indications that the dialogue process with the UPA would continue.

When asked whether the Left would suspend all dialogue process with the UPA government, Mr Karat said, “Normal dialogue process between the political parties would continue. Only we are suspending our participation in the coordination committee”.

The committee was set up following a demand by the Left parties to avoid confrontations and confusion regarding the government’s policies and key decisions.

Anticipating a “strong political message” from the Left parties during the Sunday meeting Prime Minister met veteran Marxist leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet last night as a damage control exercise.

Asked what transpired at the meeting, Mr Karat said Mr Manmohan Singh wanted to “know what the problem was” and why the Left parties were upset.

“We had asked the government not to proceed with this disinvestment as the CMP had clearly stated that UPA will retain the existing navratna companies in the public sector while these companies can go to the capital market to raise resources, if required,” Mr Karat said.

He said the Finance Minister has set a target of realising Rs 10,000 crore through disinvestment in the Union Budget for 2005-06.

Mr Karat said indications were that the government was considering disinvesting its stakes in around 20 other PSUs, although the Prime Minister had stated in October that “no such scheme is in the offing”.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said the Left parties feared the government was not only intending to disinvest in BHEL but also NTPC, ONGC and other navaratnas and profit-making PSUs.

“We cannot understand or accept this interpretation of difference between 51 per cent and 49 per cent disinvestment,” Mr Bardhan said, adding that any change in the equity structure could alter the character of the PSUs.

Without naming Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, the CPI leader said, “this particular senior minister is also careful in saying that our government will not do it beyond 49 per cent. He is leaving it to the future government to dispose of the remaining 2 per cent”.

He said the CMP clearly stated that the navratna companies should be retained in the public sector while raising resources from the market. “There is no scope for misunderstanding here. The navratnas like BHEL can go to the market for raising the capital for their own needs and it is not for the government to sell their shares and appropriate those proceeds.’’

“The proposal for a national investment fund is merely a mechanism to facilitate the government in appropriating the proceeds of disinvestment,” they alleged.

Party national secretary D. Raja, AIFB chief Debabrata Biswas and RSP central committee member Abani Roy also attended the meeting.

They also discussed the strategy for the proposed countrywide protest against the oil price hike on June 28.

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