Why sell off family heirloom?
Narendra Modi government had made its intentions clear in the budget presented to Parliament in July this year that it will go ahead for an aggressive disinvestment of blue chip public sector undertakings to meet its fiscal deficit target.
To achieve his goals, Narendra Modi does not want to lose even a single minute. He is a man in hurry. So, it was only little more than after a month that on a Wednesday morning in the second week of September the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs cleared the sale of stakes in Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Coal India Limited and National Hydro Power Corporation Limited. The dilution of equity in ONGC, CIL and NHPC is expected to fetch Rs. 48,425 crore. The sale of 5 per cent stakes of ONGC will make the pockets of the government heavier by Rs 19,000 crore, 10 per cent of CIL by Rs. 23,600 crore and 11.36 per cent of NHPC by 3,100 crore.
It’s a huge privatisation drive by any measurement. It is not important that how one arrives at the price of any public sector unit, but in my opinion it can never be right. Because the very fact that a private purchaser finds the price worth buying the stakes even in a loss making PSU speaks a lot.
These three companies are making huge profits and they are working in the areas where demand is already very high and increasing with a fast pace. Therefore, the government of the day has an onus to answer the valid questions about the possible undervaluation of these companies.
Narendra Modi government is in a mood to turn every stone possible to push the nation in an era of ‘good times’.
Next on the list of privatisation are the steel major Steel Authority of India Limited, premier gas distribution company Gas Authority of India Limited, key builder of our country’s power stations Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited and founding energy generator National Thermal Power Corporation.
It is a matter of few months that SAIL, GAIL, BHEL and NTPC would be available for more dilution in an open market where retail to institutional to financial investors will have a right to choose their booty.
I have some polite questions to ask. Where have all the saviours of family silver gone now? Why are Mohan Bhagwat and Suresh Bhaiya Joshi of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and Ram Madhav who has recently been sent to Bhartiya Janta party from RSS are tight lipped? Why Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Bhartiya Kissan Sangh are shying away to raise a voice against the commencement of the sale of family silver to some of the biggest corporate houses?
Is this not the time to take a honest review of Indian privatisation experience because the fact remains is that almost none of the disinvestment receipts of Rs 1,52,790 crore in last more than two decades could form any capital and practically nothing of this money was utilised to launch any social programme. All the proceeds have gone to meet the immediate day-to-day expenditures.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, trade union wing of the Sangh Parivar, observed ‘save public sector’ week and organised nationwide protest rallies against the disinvestment from 21 to 28 October last year when Congress-led UPA government was in power. Why is BMS silent now when Narendra Modi has offered the largest privatisation plan in the history of disinvestments to a bunch of capitalists who have already gained a lot at the cost of government enterprises?
Let me remind present day leadership of BMS that they belong to a legacy of Dattopant Bapurao Thengadi who had the courage to raise the flag against the BALCO privatisation done by the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and organised a hugely attended rally in the capital on 15 April 2001.
Isn’t it surprising that the same RSS which was criticising not only UPA for disinvestments in last ten years, but had also strongly criticised Vajpayee for his disinvestment policies has now been made to shut its mouth.
I still remember that it was the last day of the first week of September in 2002, when Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment met. A day before this, senior leader and spokesperson of RSS, M G Vaidya told the journalists that ‘certain key questions were relevant on selling profit making PSUs as well as those in the strategic areas like railways, defence production and the oil sector’.
Two months after this, he again repeated RSS’ views and told the media that it has been made clear to prime minister Vajpayee what RSS wants.
Those were the days when ideologues like K N Govindacharya were also intensely expressing their views against Vajpayee government’s disinvestment policy and were of the view that privatisation cannot be the panacea of the problems and disinvesting even the loss making PSUs will have an adverse impact on the labour force of the country.
Govindacharya, that time, was undertaking a thorough study of the effects of globalisation and liberalisation in India. He used to tell everybody that liberalisation and globalisation are ‘explosives’ and pursuing perestroika and glasnost without giving any thought to its consequences might have a negative impact on the nation’s development. RSS then wanted Vajpayee to not even think of disinvesting profit making PSUs and rather seriously implement a plan to turn over loss making units.
Same RSS and its ideologues are helplessly looking with their blank eyes at the large scale privatisation plans of its own one-time pracharak.
They know, Narendra Modi is no Atal Behari Vajpayee who was liberal enough to at least listen to dissents. Modi is Modi and it is for this reason that even organisations like All India Trade Union Congress, Centre of Indian Trade Unions and National Labour Organisation are also perhaps can’t dare to refuse to dance on the tunes Modi plays.
The author is editor and CEO of News Views India.