Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Sep 07, 2002
Columns - View Point
Politics of disinvestment
IT IS some relief that the BJP, as a party and as a partner in the NDA coalition led by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has chosen to defend the Government's current line on disinvestment, especially given the views expressed by the new Samata Party chief, Mr George Fernandes.
The latter especially the "socialist" George Fernandes, as old-timers have known him ever since he shot into prominence decades ago as a railway labour leader has not exactly covered himself with glory in his role as the BJP leadership's chief coalition trouble-shooter ever since Mr Vajpayee assumed the mantle of Prime Minister after the demise of the United Front Governments late in the 1990s.
The simple point is: If Mr Fernandes, with just a handful of fractious MPs in his pocket, really feels so strongly today about the demerits of "reviewless" disinvestment, what has he been doing for the past few years when the NDA Government has not only continued the disinvestment policy of previous Governments but has, mercifully, stepped up the pace of the effort?
Of course, given the fact that it is Mr Fernandes who is involved and no one else, the answer must lie in a political reason, which may be good for the former socialist's current political requirements but is certain to turn out to be disastrous for the national economy.
It is clear that, given the present political problems of the BJP on the national scene and, more fundamentally, the (temporary?) eclipse of Mr Vajpayee by Mr Advani in the BJP's affairs, the Union Defence Minister clearly perceives the need to refurbish his own position on the national political scene, as well as in his own minuscule Samata Party, where he is waging a (losing?) battle with people like the Union Railway Minister, Mr Nitish Kumar. So, what better course to adopt other than to engineer a "political explosion" projecting his own name, which is probably what his stand on disinvestment is all about.
The danger is that, since disinvestment is a highly charged issue, with the NDA itself wracked by dissension over it, Mr Fernandes' "initiative" based strictly on personal political considerations could have the effect of derailing the ongoing process. This, to repeat emphatically, would be an unmitigated disaster for the prospects of the national economy. It is from this perspective that the BJP's reaffirmation of the NDA Government's disinvestment policy should be seen and welcomed.
Quite clearly, the "security" angle, which has been suggested as being one of the main grounds on which the disinvestment policy should be reviewed, cannot be taken seriously because while there can be no two views about the primacy of the national security aspect over everything else privatising downstream oil companies cannot be seen to be a serious security threat.
This is because the Government can always make it mandatory for privatised oil companies to look after the security requirements of the nation, even in normal times, leave alone emergencies, during which existing laws mandate sweeping powers for the authorities.
After all, privatisation is also on the point of entering the realm of Defence production, and till now, there has been no "security" ruckus over it.
Ranabir Ray Choudhury
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