Another factor was the elevation of home minister L K Advani as deputy prime minister. Important ministers of the ruling National Democratic Alliance started looking upon him as the prime minister-in-waiting. Since Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is pro liberalisation and privatisationdisinvestment minister Arun Shourie is his appointeeanti-privatisation ministers juxtaposed Mr Advani against him. One of them, Ananth Kumar, had the gall to dare the Prime Minister at a cabinet meeting, something unprecedented in the history of India. September 7 was the denouement, the day when the cabinet committee on disinvestment (CCD) deferred disinvestment in oil PSUs for three months.
Unfortunately for these ministers, Mr Vajpayee gave up any thoughts of resignation, indeed if he had had any, and, fortunately for economic reforms, started asserting himself. On a number of occasions, beginning on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2), the Prime Minister made it amply clear that he remained the boss and privatisation could not be written off while he was at the helm of affairs. It was at his behest that the concerned ministers met on December 6 to reach a consensus on oil sector privatisation.
In this milieu, 2003 opens with a great deal of uncertainty, for 2002 has proved beyond doubt that the opponents of privatisation have the capacity to strike at any moment. In the first half of the calendar year, the government was able to sell off important PSUs such as Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd (to Reliance for Rs 1,491 crore), Hindustan Zinc Ltd (to Sterlite for Rs 445 crore) and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (to the Tatas for Rs 1,439 crore). Besides, it received Rs 1,000 crore for conceding control over Maruti Udyog Ltd to Suzuki Motor Corporation. Yet, in the second half of 2002, there was no privatisation. This only proves the point that the nexus between anti-sale politicians and the swadeshi lobby can make a deadly combination at any point of time.