Modi Should Offer A Deal To Silence Rahul On PSU Sales: Air India For National Herald

by R Jagannathan - Oct 18, 2019 01:36 PM +05:30 IST
Modi Should Offer A Deal To Silence Rahul On PSU Sales: Air India For National HeraldPrime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi during a floral tribute ceremony on the portrait of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. 
Snapshot
  • On a more serious note, Modi should point out what the expenditure on Air India is costing the taxpayer, money which could be helpful in alleviating poverty.

    The real argument Modi should put forward to the voter is that governments have a choice: running public sector units for the benefit of employees or using the proceeds from the same sale for the benefit of all citizens, especially the poor.

Rahul Gandhi has coined a new name for Narendra Modi: “Bechendra Modi”.

While some people will, no doubt, find this funny, as it focuses on the government’s new-found belief in privatising public sector companies like Bharat Petroleum and Air India, the joke is really on the Gandhi scion.

This jibe provides Modi with the right opportunity to take the ideological battle to Rahul’s court. He must finally bury the idea that selling loss-making public sector units is some kind of sellout.

Selling even profitable public sector companies like Bharat Petroleum should be shown to be benefitting the country more, with the proceeds being used for better purposes.

In his polemical speech during election rallies, Rahul had this to say: “#BechendraModi is sharing spoils (bandar baant) of PSUs with his suit-boot friends. The PSUs (public sector undertakings) were set up by the country after years of hard work….It is a time of uncertainty and fear for millions of PSU employees. I stand shoulder to shoulder with all those employees in protest against this loot.”

He claimed that these companies were being sold to his (Modi’s) cronies — when it is far from clear who will ultimately bag these companies in the auction. “Modi is the loudspeaker of Adani and Ambani. Just like a pickpocket, who diverts attention of people before stealing, his (Modi's) only job is to divert your attention so that he can pass your money to a select few industrialists.”

While Rahul Gandhi is free to go on with his election rhetoric, however poorly it is based in fact, Modi should call his bluff publicly.

He could do so by offering to do two things:

One, he should offer Air India, which is bleeding profusely and eating taxpayer resources, to Rahul Gandhi in exchange for the latter’s illegal ownership of National Herald — whose properties are valued at Rs 2,000 crore or more. Since Air India is presumably the crown jewels, Rahul will get a bargain.

On a more serious note, Modi should point out what the expenditure on Air India is costing the taxpayer, money which could be helpful in alleviating poverty. Air India has debts of Rs 58,000 crore, and there is no chance it will be able to pay off its debts ever.

It is already defaulting on payments for aviation fuel, and no buyer will touch Air India without a serious reschedulement of its debts. This is what the government is trying to do, in order to get Air India off its hands.

Two, Modi can offer to put Bharat Petroleum on the block where any group of employees and/or political parties can bid at the auction along with others, including presumably Saudi Aramco and the inevitable Mukesh Ambani.

The government could offer the company at a 5 per cent discount on the auction-determined price to any group of employees the Congress party thinks represents the Indian working class.

The real argument Modi should put forward to the voter is that governments have a choice: running public sector units for the benefit of employees or using the proceeds from the same sale for the benefit of all citizens, especially the poor.

He could also ask people how many of them prefer the telecom services of loss-making Bharat Sanchar Nigam as opposed to that of private players — Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance Jio.

If most people are happy enough with what they get from private players, what is the point of investing thousands of crores of public money to keep loss-making companies in business?

He should tell the voter that the country’s core interests have nothing to do with who makes cars or scooters or mobile phones. They are about providing better services to the poor, securing defence and internal security, and providing better roads and infrastructure.

They will get the point. The average voter is not that dumb as to not work out the tradeoffs.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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