Disinvestment drag

Updated: Jan 27 2005, 05:30am hrs
Wednesdays decision to defer the selloff of Maruti and Bhel effectively puts paid to any hope that the government is serious about privatisation. While no official reason has been given for the postponement, it calls for no great intelligence to surmise the opposition of the Left parties is, in all likelihood, the reason why the government is chickening out. For all its public assertion that it is the original party of reform and is determined to continue the process, when it actually comes to a faceoff, the Congress-led UPA government is the first to blink.

This is most unfortunate. As we said many times before in these columns, the numbers commanded by the Left in Parliament are deceptive. Given that the alternative of a BJP-led government is anathema to the Left, there is no way the Left parties will ever withdraw their support to the UPA. They will rave and rant and play to the gallery, but when push comes to shove, they will back off and lick their wounds in silence. They know they are never going to have it so good. But for the infighting in the Congress in Kerala, they would never have turned in such a sterling performance in the state. Their days in the sun are therefore limited. The government needs to recognise this and use it to its advantage. Unfortunately, more than seven months after he took over the reins of government, Prime Minister Man-mohan Singh is still pussy-footing.

We are still well short of the disinvestment target of Rs 4,000 crore projected in this years Budget. A Budget approved by Parliament, including the Left members. Consequently, the government has a cast-iron case for pushing ahead with more selloffs. Especially since the money is sorely needed to deliver on schemes proposed under the National Employment Guarantee Act, causes that are dear to the Left. Instead, it has chosen to squander the opportunity and give in tamely. Heavy industries minister Santosh Mohan Debs statement that the selloff will now take place next fiscal does little to inspire confidence. What is the sanctity of the next fiscal Sadly, it is the ordinary man-on-the-street who picks up the tab for the governments timidity.

Today the market is enjoying a bull run. But theres no knowing how long it will last. Any selloff done at a time when sentiment is upbeat is bound to fetch more than when markets are in a bear grip. But rather than trying to strike when the iron is hot, the government is letting I dare not wait upon I would, like the poor cat in the adage. With disastrous consequences for the exchequer and, by extension, every one of us.