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Home > Business > Special

Why Khurana should be grateful to Naik

A K Bhattacharya | September 03, 2003

Madan Lal Khurana should remain eternally grateful to Petroleum Minister Ram Naik. If you are wondering why, here is the explanation.

As the Bharatiya Janata Party's chief ministerial candidate for the forthcoming Assembly elections in Delhi, Mr Khurana has been lobbying very hard for the postponement of all decisions that he fears might adversely affect his party's electoral prospects.

A few months ago, he fought very hard to scuttle the implementation of the value added tax system that would have made tax evasion difficult and the system more transparent. But Mr Khurana's argument against VAT was simple. The introduction of VAT would have upset traders.

And traders could be very effective in influencing the ordinary voters' attitude towards a political party. They could raise prices and blame that on the introduction of VAT by the Centre, which was ruled by a BJP-led coalition.

The BJP bosses listened to Mr Khurana and many others like him. Eventually, the Centre postponed the implementation of VAT till the next financial year, although the Delhi government was ready for its enforcement.

Next on Mr Khurana's agenda was the proposed introduction of the conditional access system for cable television viewers. For right reasons or wrong, the proposed system became controversial and Delhi's cable TV viewing public became apprehensive of a steep hike in their monthly cable TV bill.

Mr Khurana argued that if CAS was implemented, the BJP candidates would lose their deposits at the November Assembly elections in Delhi. Once again the BJP bosses at the Centre listened to him. And the implementation of CAS was deferred indefinitely. Nobody now knows when and how CAS will be implemented or if at all it will ever see the light of day.

The third decision, which was being opposed by the local state-level BJP leaders was an increase in the price of petrol and diesel. International crude oil prices have been hardening for the last several weeks.

But all proposals by the state-owned oil companies to increase the petrol and diesel prices were kept on hold in view of the adverse impact it might have on the prospects of BJP's candidates at the forthcoming state elections.

The oil companies did not give up their efforts to convince the petroleum minister about the logic of a price hike. The oil companies, they argued, were bearing a substantial cost burden on account of the government's failure to phase out the subsidies on liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene.

Did the government want its oil companies to take on an even bigger burden, asked the oil companies. Mr Naik relented and the government allowed the oil companies to hike petrol and diesel prices by about seven per cent.

Mr Khurana and the state unit of BJP are very upset with this decision. But actually they should be grateful to Mr Naik for having bailed them out from a difficult position. Consider that if the petrol prices had not been hiked, the pressure on Mr Khurana to win the elections in Delhi would have been enormous.

With the postponement of decisions on three key issues on VAT, CAS and oil prices, he would have been left with no excuses for any poll debacle. Now in case Mr Khurana does not do well in the elections, he can at least put the blame for his failure to win the Delhi elections on the oil companies' decision to hike petrol and diesel prices.

That, mind you, is a big escape route for Mr Khurana. And this may be very useful as his party's chances in the forthcoming Assembly elections do not appear very bright.

Indeed, the message that the state unit of BJP has sent to the people of Delhi in the last few months is that it easily succumbs to pressures exerted by powerful lobbies and can influence the Centre for postponing any decision that might upset any vested interest groups.

These may be traders when it comes to VAT, cable television operators when it is the question of introducing CAS or even the upper middle-class users of cars in Delhi (remember that all public transport vehicles use compressed natural gas in the Capital).

That makes BJP look like an opportunistic party without any conviction or belief in any policy. And that surely is not the message that Delhi's residents expect from a party that hopes to rule them.

In contrast, the Congress-led government in Delhi has been focused only on issues of governance. The construction of over 40 fly-overs in the city has made traffic flow better. Privatisation of the Delhi Vidyut Board has raised hopes of improved power supply.

The air quality in the city has improved, thanks to the enforcement of compulsory use of CNG as the fuel for all buses and public transport vehicles. The policy for relocating pollutant industries outside the city limits has begun yielding results.

A new water treatment plant, to be commissioned later this year, should remove the Capital's water scarcity. The phased introduction of new routes of the Delhi Metro will make life easier. And if all goes well, Delhi's taxi service will soon undergo a dramatic change.

For BJP, the forthcoming elections will be a tough challenge. Mr Khurana should thank his stars and Ram Naik.

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