Members of Sangrami Yuba Chatra Parisad, Assam staging a protest against the proposed privatization of the NRL, in Sivsagar. (File image)

As many as 855 Assamese made supreme sacrifice and attained martyrdom during the 6-year long historic Assam Movement that culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord.

While all the major clauses of the Accord are gathering dust in the corridors of power in Dispur and Delhi, one of the clauses, a relatively minor one for that matter, that was implemented and bore fruits in due course was the setting up of the public sector undertaking Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL).

However, as of now, courtesy the ruling dispensation, the highly profit-making NRL is seemingly on the verge of turning from a garden of roses into a thorn destination.  Pitch black clouds are apparently heading towards the NRL. One is afraid that in no time the entire industrial unit and also the sacrifice made by the martyrs may be enveloped in impenetrable darkness.

The question arises if the tears of  Assam can wash the NRL of the black smear that the black clouds may precipitate. The sudden development of the despicably ugly scenario can only be apprehended after a thorough analysis of the changing political landscape, referred to as parivartan by the powers that be.

Extreme rightist political parties in any part of the world, as a rule, are pro-capitalist by nature. The religious groups are also generally over indulgently rightist and hence friends of the richer class.

Again, when a political party is guided by radical rightist ideology, obstinate religious dogmatism and headstrong chauvinism in the garb of nationalism, almost verging on the fringe of fascism, it focuses primarily on roadmaps prepared for multiplication and accumulation of wealth by the capitalist group, the business tycoons and the economically affluent lobby.

Where necessary, even laws are amended, existing laws scrapped or new legislations enacted by rightist-led governments to facilitate the moneyed lot to mint mountains of wealth.

To satisfy the greed of the capitalist world, a rightist party government accords very high priority to privatisation of profit-making units of the public (nationalised) sector. The way corporates reap unearned harvest from waiver of massive loans procured from nationalised banks, privatisation of flourishing units in the public sector [public sector undertakings (PSUs)] is another way of blessing the corporate world by the powers that be to mint unearned capital.

In reality privatisation means a sellout of a profit-making unit of the public sector, generally at a throwaway price and easy, elastic and relaxable terms, to a private party. Almost as a rule, it is a win-win situation for the private sector while the public sector groans and fades into oblivion. Ironically, such governments turn a blind eye towards sick or financially ailing PSUs.

Building up of a business/industrial unit into a profit-making one in any sector is a painstakingly hard task, quite often laced with several failures and loss of business in the early years. Launching such a project also entails the involvement of a risk factor. The way “Rome was not built in a day”, so also a business/industrial unit has to undergo many trials, tribulations, ordeals and acid tests before maturing into a profit-making unit.

While all the hard work is undertaken during the initial years by the management and staff of the PSU, on its becoming a profitable public sector unit, a rightist government of the extreme kind never has any qualm in offering it on a platter to the private sector under its privatisation agenda.

Thus the captain(s) of the private sector are blessed by a pro-capitalist government that even by bending backwards or twisting the law, if necessary. It is a sad commentary on our independence that a PSU does all the hard work and the capitalist lobby reaps the harvest.
As of now, public sector undertaking NRL is on the verge of slipping into the fiendish grip of the private sector, courtesy BJP-led government at the Centre. Over the last fortnight or so the local media has been agog with the news of the move by the Centre to privatise the NRL.

The ground reality is that, as is the wont of an extremely rightist government which only focuses on the multiplication and accumulation of wealth by the capitalist sector, New Delhi has decided to privatise the highly profit-making public sector unit Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL). On the other hand, the BPCL presently holds a stake of 61.65 per cent in the NRL; privatisation of BPCL would inevitably cause the NRL to face the same fate.

It may be recalled that way back in 2003, the then BJP-led NDA government headed by AB Vajpayee had made a move to privatise the BPCL and the HPCL. However, the Supreme Court disallowed the same while ruling that for the purpose the relevant law had to amend by the Parliament first.

As Vajpayee led only a coalition government with the opposition being strong enough to show such a bill the exit door, the move to privatise the BPCL was shelved.

However, the move to privatise the BPCL by the present government at the Centre has been on since long. As per a media report the BJP-led government “had quietly repealed the legislation that had nationalised the company overriding in the process the obligation to seek Parliamentary approval before selling the public sector entity” in the interest of capital multiplication by some private company(ies).”

It is indeed highly ludicrous that after loud cries from different corners against the proposed privatisation of the NRL, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal reportedly “dash” off a letter to the Centre seeking clarification on the issue.

If the way the Assam CM tactfully ducked and bunked all questions on CAB before it lapsed in the last Lok Sabha is any indication, one may almost rest assured that no positive and constructive stand may be expected from him on the issue of privatisation of the NRL.

In line with his reply on the CAB, at the most his reply may be like that he would not allow any harm to be caused to the NRL. But in all probability he may never oppose the privatisation move, lest he loses his CM’s ‘gaddi’ by opposing the pro-capitalist policy of the BJP.

Meanwhile, Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi made a clear statement before the media that the proposed privatisation of the BPCL and followed-up privatisation of NRL is already in the agenda of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry.

As per his announcement, he also raised the issue in the first meeting of the committee and that the matter would be discussed in subsequent meetings thoroughly. Bordolio also said that he has information that a Cabinet note on disinvestment of BPCL is in circulation and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) may take a decision on it in November.

Bordoloi made it crystal clear that only Sonowal can save the NRL by pressurising the Centre to keep the company out of the ambit of privatisation. While the NRL is a product of the Assam Accord, the Congress MP came down on Sonowal stating that a letter to the Centre on the issue was not enough.

While BPCL holds 61.65 per cent stake in the NRL, the stake of Oil India Limited (OIL) is 26 per cent and that of the Assam Government is 12.35 per cent, Bordoloi asserted that to save the profit-making PSU, Sonowal must play a proactive role and be successful in causing mainly the Central government to purchase 51 per cent of stake of the BPCL in the NRL.

Another option suggested by the MP is that a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) could be created that may own the 61.65 per cent stake in the NRL presently being held by the BPCL. Likewise, several other oil experts have opined that the OIL, which is making huge investment in fruitless ventures in foreign countries like Mozambique and Russia, could very well increase its stake in the NRL to 51 percent and save the PSU from being privatised.

While a hundred options may be mooted, a rightist party to the extreme exerting utmost power can never change its policy of being openly pro-capitalist. As the saying goes, “A leopard cannot change its spot”, so is the case with parties that are friends of the corporate and business sector. Hence, the total focus of the BJP is centred on the multiplication of capital of the private sector at the cost of the public sector.  One could not agree less with Bordoloi that Sonowal must play the all important role if the NRL is to be saved from slipping into the private sector.

But considering the escapist and hide & seek game that he played before the CAB lapsed, one feels that his prime concern is holding on to power at any cost. One may almost bet that he would never oppose the proposed privatisation, a brainchild of the pro-capitalist policy of the saffron party, to save the NRL.

One may not be too far off the impending and bleak reality in stating that all suggestions made with a view to saving the NRL may finally land up in the dustbin of history.

The priceless blood of 855 martyrs of the Assam Movement has cemented an emotive bond between the NRL and the people of Assam. Under the circumstances, would it be wrong if the proposed sellout of the Reinery is also deemed to be a sellout of the martyrdom of 855 sons and daughters of Assam?

Talmizur Rahman

Talmizur Rahman is a Guwahati based senior journalist and commentator. He can be reached at rahmantmz5@gmail.com

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