EVENTUALLY, it was left to D. Raja (CPI), Sitaram Yechuri (CPI-M), P. Chidambaram (TMC) Jaipal Reddy (Janata Dal) to work out the United Front's Common Minimum Programme. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who was to coordinate the working of this "informal group", helped set things up on May 28 and May 29 and then left the hard bargaining to the others. And with the Left parties in one corner, Chidambaram in the other and Reddyas the umpire-with-his-own-agenda, bargain they did.
Take the proposal for a disinvestment commission for sick PSUs. On the surface, it seems like a victory for the pro-reforms Chidambaram. But a look at the nitty-gritty of the issue shows that the proposal—like most others in the common minimum programme—is open to more than one interpretation. Sources disclosed that a meeting of the trade unions allied to all United Front constituents has already been called for June 28. "It is they who will have to agree on which PSUs are beyond redemption. And only those which we agree cannot be revived will then go to the disinvestment commission," said a prominent Left-allied trade unionist.
Another point on which Chidambaram had to yield was his colleagues' insistence that the UF "positively reaffirm its commitment to the public sector". In fact, the role of the PSUs was not a prominent component of the working draft but the final draft of the CMP emphasised the point under pressure from the Leftists, though they too had to make concessions on the way it was worded. Reddy's argument that the concept of self-reliance be affirmed by the United Front while Chidambaram's emphasis on growth as the only real panacea for the economic ills were both incorporated in the final draft.
Then there was the contentious issue of reservations in the private sector, which the JD, and to a lesser extent the CPI, were keen on. But Chidambaram, despite being the representative of the TMC-DMK alliance —which strongly supports the continuance of the 69 per cent reservation in Tamil Nadu and is a staunch supporter of the reservations regime—convinced the others to avoid mentioning it in the CMP as it could not be implemented immediately. According to United Front sources, he felt as it needed a constitutional amendment, there was no point in upsetting the private sector prematurely.
Naidu, on the other hand, took a lot of convincing that his demand for Central reimbursement to state governments for their revenue loss due to implementing pro-poor measures, such as Rs 2 a kg rice for the poor and prohibition, was not on."Our argument was that prohibition was a state subject and we would emphasise in the CMP that the poor would be sold rations at half-price through a strengthened public distribution system, to which Naidu finally agreed," said a member of the drafting committee.
The Left too made its share of compromises—on the entry of foreign players in the insurance sector, for example. In the end, it was a case of compromises galore and the realisation that the battle will begin when it comes to the minutae of a case-by-case implementation in the light of the CMP.