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Sonia buys peace till PM’s US visit
Deadlock continues over BHEL disinvestment
R. Suryamurthy
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 10
Although the impasse continues over the BHEL disinvestment even after the meeting of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi with Left leaders on Sunday for the second time in the last 10 days, both sides expressed optimism that the “matter will be amicably resolved.”

"Talks were held in a good atmosphere...of course we are satisfied with the meeting and hope that the matter will be amicably settled very soon", Ahmed Patel, Political Secretary to Sonia Gandhi, who participated in the meeting, told reporters.

Sources said Sonia Gandhi had persuaded the Left to hold on till Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington later this month, in which enhancing India-US economic ties and investment opportunities in India will be a key component.

A domestic clash over economic reforms and a negative image of the government would not look very good for Manmohan Singh, who will also be accompanied by a corporate delegation, reminded Congress leaders.

CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat said the Left leaders requested the UPA Chairperson to intervene to see that the CMP provisions regarding the navratnas is adhered to by the government and were “hopeful that the matter will be amicably resolved.”

Not ruling out possibility of another meeting on the issue Patel said "They have suggested something. We have also suggested something." But Patel declined to specify saying "it would not be good as talks are still on with the Left leaders".

RSP leader Abani Roy said we reiterated our stand that the government should follow the CMP. That is the only suggestion that we had given. The government had violated the CMP and they have to rectify it.

Asked about the Left parties' reported suggestion of sale of 5 per cent equity shares instead of 10 decided by the government, Patel said "nothing could be said at this moment".

Asked if the issue would be settled before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s July 18 to 20 visit to the US, Patel said it would not be possible to fix a time frame in this regard.

The Congress leader said the Left had repeated its appeal for a rollback, but subsequent discussions had appeared positive.

Left leaders said it was for the government to come up with a solution to the mess that they had created. "We have stated our position and it is for them to come up with a solution as they have violated the CMP".

Karat said: "We have asked for the adherence of the common minimum programme regarding the disinvestment of government equity in profit-making companies."

He said the BHEL sell-off was to be the first in a series planned by the Finance Ministry so that Rs 10,000 crore could be realised in the current financial year. It was because other navaratna companies and profitable public sector units were to be disinvested after the BHEL sale, that the Left parties decided that it could not accept this gross violation of the CMP.

Unlike other issues where there were differences, the disinvestment of a navaratna company was in direct violation of a specific commitment in the CMP. That is what had occasioned the suspension of participation in the coordination committee and not some nebulous and fanciful idea that the CPM and the Left stood to gain with this posture in the Assembly elections to be held next year, he said.

Left leaders said Mrs Gandhi had assured them that she would consult the Prime Minister and other ministers and "get back" to the Left parties.

"Obviously, she cannot take the decision on her own," Karat asserted.

She also reportedly said any backtracking on BHEL disinvestment would be embarrassing for the government.

Both sides said that the issue of Indo-U.S. defence agreement, which had come under attack from the Left parties, did not come up for discussions and the meeting was solely restricted to the BHEL issue.

Besides Karat, those who attended the meeting were veteran Marxist leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, CPM Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan and party national secretary D. Raja, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party's Abani Roy.

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