M A I N   N E W S

Disinvestment of BHEL put on hold
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 6
The UPA government today sought to placate the Left parties by formally communicating its decision to place the disinvestment of Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL) on hold.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to Congress President Sonia Gandhi informing her about the government’s decision to keep the BHEL issue in abeyance. Subsequently, Mrs Gandhi, in her capacity as UPA Chairperson, conveyed this decision to CPM leader Prakash Karat in a separate letter in which she hoped the Left leaders will reconsider their earlier decision to boycott the UPA-Left coordination panel.

The Left parties, which are extending outside support to the UPA government, had walked out of this coordination panel over three months ago to protest the Centre’s decision to offload government stake in a navratna PSU which, they said, violated the spirit of the common minimum programme (CMP).

This issue had created fissures between the Congress and the Left parties and the UPA government was eventually forced to backtrack on it. Although BHEL disinvestment was effectively in cold storage, the decision was not formally communicated to the Left parties. Left leaders had publicly stated on several occasions that they would only start attending the coordination committee meetings only after they received a formal letter telling them that disinvestments of BHEL had been put off.

The government, on its part, was delaying sending such a letter, as it did not want to formally admit that it was reversing a Cabinet decision. And since there was no communication breakdown between the UPA and the Left with the two holding periodic consultation on major issues.

However, relations between the Congress and the Left came under fresh strain recently over the UPA government decision to vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). While the Left parties lashed out at the government, even going to the extent of saying that India had become a client state of the US, Mr Prakash Karat attacked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally on this issue in a signed article in the party’s official organ, People’s Democracy.

The Left parties decision to launch a nationwide campaign against the government’s decision in cooperation with the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (S) really sent alarm bells ringing in the ruling combine. An added cause for concern for the Congress was the message that the Iran issue will send to the minorities, especially with SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav jumping into the fray and projecting the vote as a move against the interests of minorities. With elections in Bihar coming up and the Aligarh Muslim University issue hotting up, the Congress needed to buy peace with the Left parties.

Mrs Ambika Soni, Chairperson, AICC media department, however, denied that the Congress had wilted under pressure from the Left parties. “It is not a question of pressure, it is a matter of taking along all UPA constituents and our outside supporters,” she said, adding that sometimes one has to defer a decision to ensure everybody’s cooperation.

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