Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Left allies headed for a fresh round of confrontation on Friday with both sides exchanging strong words over rise of commodity prices.
The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying, “Political parties should not politicise the misery of the people and ... refrain from scare mongering.” Within hours, the Left hit back.
Angered over the choice of words in the statement, the Left sent out a warning to the PM: “The government must remember that they need us to get the Finance Bill passed.”
The strong words in the PMO’s statement didn’t go down well with a number of Congress leaders too, who said that the reference to the “misery of the people” could have been avoided. “If political parties will not highlight people’s misery, then who will?”said a leader. The confrontation came on a day when latest inflation figures showed a rise over the previous figures. Costlier food items drove up inflation to 7.33 per cent in the week ended April 12, from 7.14 the previous week.
Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan refused to comment on the PMO’s statement. Claiming that government’s efforts to check inflation were bearing fruit, she urged parties: “We should be constructive in our approach. It is better not to make political capital on an issue that affects us all.”
The PMO statement came shortly after top Left leaders met the PM and demanded specific steps to curb the rising commodity prices. The government’s worries were compounded with the Left walking out of the Rajya Sabha in protest against the cut in central foodgrain allocation for Kerala.
Left leaders Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and A.B. Bardhan among others met the prime minister at his residence. After the meeting, prime minister's media advisor Sanjaya Baru, in a statement, quoted Singh as saying that all necessary steps were being taken by the government to curb inflation. "The PM urged all political parties to eschew the temptation of politicising the misery of the people and warned against creating an environment of scarcity, which would only encourage speculators and hoarders," the statement said.
"There was no need for political parties to indulge in scare mongering," the statement added. Annoyed by the phrases used in the PMO statement, CPI leader Bardhan warned the government against taking the Left support for granted. "The government must remember that they need us to get the Finance Bill passed," he said. CPM's Yechury termed the PMO's statement as very unfortunate. "The same applies to the government. It must eschew being callous about people's problems. We are not at all satisfied by the PM's response to the suggestions we made," he said.
The war of words does not augur well for the UPA with its past experience of a stand off with the Left on the India-US nuke deal. The Left parties had come close to announcing withdrawal of support after Manmohan Singh's remarks in August last year: "It is an honourable deal… if they want to withdraw support, so be it."
The two sides also clashed in Parliament with the Left walking out of the Rajya Sabha. The situation reached a flashpoint when Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar refused to accept Yechury’s demand to restore the central foodgrain allocation for Kerala.