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|October 8, 1999||
'The industry is happy with the verdict'
Neena Haridas in New Delhi
None better than Rahul Bajaj to explain the reaction of the Indian Industry to another stint by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But will the Confederation of Indian Industry president talk?
Yep, he is game.
"The industry is happy with the electorate's clear verdict as it would usher in a stable government," begins the man who met 'a confident' Vajpayee in the morning, "You see, the industry supports two coalitions -- a Congress-led one or a BJP-led coalition. The point is, we all want a bipolar situation.
"The so-called third front or the United Front or the Left, which is barely 100 MPs -- we really want this number to decrease and the other two coalitions to get stronger."
But if you dare take his jubilation for BJP sycophancy, Bajaj is quick with a correction: "We are happy not necessarily because of the BJP, but because we are now hopeful of stability."
And what, pray, makes him think that the BJP would bring stability?
"You see, this time the BJP coming back to power is different. First, there was a pre-poll alliance. Two, there is clear-cut majority for the alliance -- that is, the NDA. Three, some Cabinet ministers who were absolutely new last time have now acquired experience. Four, hopefully there will be similar faces in the Cabinet as we hope Vajpayee to maintain some of the ministers. But we also hope that the PM will reshuffle some ministries and let some ministers go."
You pop the question that begs answer: who are these faces that he would rather not see in the new government?
"We definitely want Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh to stay."
The query, you gently remind him, was about the ones he wanted booted out.
"What do you think, I am mad to name the ministers I don't like?" Bajaj shows some temper (and also a bit of humour). "I am mad, but not that mad!"
Back on a serious note, he tells you that the CII has drafted a 12-point economic agenda to be presented to the new government. "Of course, technically it is a new government, but it is really the old government," he says, "We will make this presentation soon."
As per the programme, the industry will pressure the government to pass the 12 bills that are long due, including those on insurance and income tax. "The finance minister had reportedly said that if he becomes the FM again, he would pass the Insurance Bill in three days. We hope that he will keep his word."
Bajaj categorically states that the government should be downsized because it needs to utilise the resources to improve India's per capita income, which is at a poor $400 annually. "Everyone is getting excited about India's Gross Domestic Product growth of 6 per cent. But I tell you this is nothing to get excited about. We need a GDP growth of at least 8 per cent. And this is possible only if agricultural growth is over 4 per cent and services exceed 11 per cent and industry grows at 12 per cent. Hence the new government will have to concentrate on all these fronts," he explains.
Besides, Bajaj continues, the government must review the situation in states such as Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and the North-East. "No investor wants to go there for obvious reasons and I don't want to detail the reasons here. If it's the problem of non-performance of the state government, something should be done about it. Thankfully, this time the electorate has voted against non-performing state governments," he adds.
The government should not just talk about investments, it should give privatisation its due importance: "The government must bring down its stake to 50 per cent and gradually to 25 per cent and then to nil. There is no other way out."
About the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle, the CII president says that India should approach it confidently and fight for her rights.
The industry, he adds, hopes the government will not succumb to infighting in the coalition. "There are only three main parties, the rest are small fragments and I don't think they will create any problem," he says.
Not true, that -- hasn't Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala already created enough noise over the hike in diesel price?
"That poor guy was only airing his opinion. He has a right to do that. After all, his is a farmer constituency. But if my readings are right, though the PM did not say in as many words, there will be no roll back on diesel prices," answers Bajaj.
A pause, and then comes this comment: "Well, in a way this government itself is a roll-back government, isn't it? This is politics! Even we can talk like this if Arun [Bharat Ram, the CII vice-president] and I join politics. And if we don't have anything else to do, we will become journalists, right Arun?"
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