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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Indian Prime Minister defends selloff plans
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
Vajpayee is fighting his own supporters
India's Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has gone up against some of his staunchest supporters in an attempt to shore up his government's faltering privatisation programme.

At a meeting late on Wednesday - the 133rd anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth - Mr Vajpayee slammed his critics among Hindu hardliners who are running a campaign against selling assets to foreigners.

Defence Minister George Fernandes
Fernandes is a key opponent of the oil selloff
"An anti-reform atmosphere is being created," he told his audience. "Such a campaign is not in the interest of the country.

"Even educated, intelligent people are saying that the present government is selling everything , that it has sold India. India is not so cheap."

Dispute

Mr Vajpayee was responding in part to comments from his petroleum minister, Ram Naik, who earlier that day had called into question plans to privatise part of the oil refinery industry.

Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum, which between them command 40% of the $15bn retail fuel business in India, were due to be sold off as part of a 120bn rupee privatisation drive.

But last month, the plans were delayed by three months - largely, it is thought, because of pressure from Mr Naik, from Defence Minister George Fernandes and Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

Outside the government, the main anti-privatisation momentum is coming from the right-wing, ideologically driven Hindu organisations from which Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party draws much of its power base.

Chief among them is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose leader, KS Sudarshan, set his face firmly against outside involvement in the economy.

"We want a decentralised, rural-based, eco-friendly and labour intensive economy involving less capital and consuming less energy," he said.

See also:

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