The National Democratic Alliance's secular partners have revived the demand for a mid-course correction in economic policy, which, according to them, has cast a shadow on the otherwise "excellent" track-record of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
"Divestment may be a very good policy in principle, but it is sending wrong political message to the people," was the refrain of not just NDA partners but also some BJP leaders at the 7-hour brain-storming session (chintan baithak, a phrase borrowed from the Sangh Parivar) at the Prime Minister's 7, Race Course Road residence omn Sunday.
It was felt the government must emphasise on rural development to dispel the image that the development projects were meant only for urban areas. Significantly, this apprehension too was shared by the BJP and its alliance partners.
At the meeting, the government side was represented by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha and Health Minister Sushma Swaraj. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was a special invitee.
The meeting started at 1030 IST with NDA convenor and Defence Minister George Fernandes making an introductory speech which read like paean of the Vajpayee government.
"What this government has achieved in five years could not be achieved in the past five decades," he said. Taking the cue from Fernandes, everyone spoke on the beaten tracks.
The areas of disagreement became discernible when issues like disinvestment, Iraq and Ayodhya came up for the discussion.
There was a rare unanimity among BJP's Pramod Mahajan, Rajnath Singh, Janata Dal (United chief Sharad Yadav, Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and DMK leader T R Baalu on the issue of divestment.
"This issue must be handled with great care. It has distorted people's perception," they said. "A mid-course correction is called for," they demanded.
On the issue of Iraq, Yashwant Sinha gave a detailed explanation of the government's stance on the second Gulf war and said the government's position was guided by the national interest.
Referring to the Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, Sinha said it would not be pragmatic to take a tough anti-US stance in view of the possibility of India being affected by Islamic terrorism.
The secular partners of the NDA found a common ground with the BJP leadership, including Narendra Modi over the effort to restrain the VHP's aggressiveness.
For instance, a section of allies said VHP general secretary Praven Togadia must be checked from making bellicose and communal statements.
To this, even Modi is believed to have remarked: "It becomes very difficult when VHP leaders start opposing even the Gujarat government."
The government was defensive when DMK leader T R Baalu raised the issue of detention of MDMK chief V Gopalswamy (Vaiko) under the POTA and the Centre's inability to protect the "valued ally".
The allies were irked over the report that the Centre has filed an affidavit in a Chennai court justifying slapping of POTA charges against Vaiko.
But Advani said the government would make efforts to prevent misuse of POTA against political opponents. He also denied that the government had justified charges against Vaiko.
The participants described the exercise a right step towards making preparations for the General Elections.
"We had a frank and free exchanges of views," some of the participant remarked. Vajpayee patiently listened to everyone's views except for a brief post-lunch period when he retired for a siesta.