After the BJP-led coalition came to power last year, prime minister Vajpayee set up a new department of disinvestment and placed a young, telegenic lawyer, Arun Jaitley in charge.
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The first state company, Modern Foods, was sold to a Unilever subsidiary early this year and the government announced that Air India and Indian Airlines, the international and national carriers, would be privatized. The markets were enthused.
Soon after, cracks began to show. Ram Naik, a BJP government, argued that the petroleum and oil companies (under his charge) were strategic industries and should stay under government control. The sale of shares in Indian Oil Corporation, India's biggest oil company, which had been scheduled for March, was shelved. Another minister, Manohar Joshi, opposed divestment of the government's shares in Maruti, India's biggest car company and a joint venture with Suzuki. The telecom minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, has reportedly put his foot down over further divestment in MTNL and VSNL, the telecom monopolies.
A much-anticipated cabinet meeting on June 23 cleared the sale of around 19 companies and approved the sale of 14 others, but Maruti, IOC, VSNL and MTNL were not on the list.