Privatisation pussyfooting

EducationWorld December 2019 | Postscript

The widely reported decision of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre to privatise Bharat Petroleum (BPCL), Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and Container Corporation of India (CONCOR) is like a whiff of oxygen to the stagnating Indian economy in which all indicators — GDP growth rate, employment generation, aggregate demand, exports, agriculture productivity — are flashing red. The Union Budget 2019-20 has factored in an income of Rs.1.05 lakh crore accruing to the Central government from disinvestment, i.e, sale of equity shares of the country’s floundering public sector enterprises (PSEs) promoted with great hopes of funding rural and social (education and health) development in the heyday of the socialist era of the Nehru-Indira dynasty.

However, this tepid privatisation programme which Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman insists will be completed before the end of this fiscal year is clearly born out of necessity to balance the budget, rather than ideological conviction. Curiously, despite the BJP being the direct descendant of the ideologically pro-private enterprise Jan Sangh party established by BJP icons Shyama Prasad Mookerji and Atal Bihari Vajpayee among others, the Modi government has exhibited little appetite for denationalising the country’s perpetually bleeding PSEs, which are a huge strain on the economy and the Union budget.

Thus far, the BJP/NDA government 2.0 has been pussyfooting around privatisation by forcing public sector financial companies such as LIC to buy equity shares of PSEs at inflated prices and book capital gains to balance the budget. Everyone knows that the Ambanis and Adanis — the hate totems of Lutyens Delhi’s champagne socialists — if given ownership of PSEs, would quickly turn them around into profitable tax-paying companies. That’s why the market capitalisation (aggregate value of equity) of the Ambani-managed Reliance Industries is all set to hit the unprecedented Rs.10 lakh crore on the National Stock Exchange.

Therefore, the BJP leadership’s reluctance to boldly privatise the Central government’s 300 PSEs, which are a millstone around the country’s neck, can only be attributed to awareness that they are too rich a source of patronage (jobs for kith and kin) and cuts, kickbacks and commissions. On this issue there’s evidently an all-party consensus.

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