Poll bound allies of the UPA are worried by Friday’s fuel price hike. The Trinamool Congress and the DMK, both of whom have to face assembly elections next year, had to do some shadow boxing so as not to be seen as openly
supporting the increase.
The opposition, including the Left and the BJP, predictably, went all out to attack the government, demanding a rollback and blaming it for further stoking inflation.
Food inflation on Thursday rose marginally to 16.96 per cent from 16.12 per cent last week.
For the Trinamool and the DMK, it was a delicate balancing act.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee stayed away from the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers though the increase of diesel prices would directly impact her ministry. Railway ministry officials, however, said that although the the fuel hike would increase its expense on diesel by Rs 470 crore, passenger fares will remain untouched.
Fertiliser and Chemical Minister M.K. Alagiri simply read out a note to say that the hike would push up prices of other items further. “Any further increase will hit the purchasing power of the lower middle income families,” he said.
When he even proposed a rollback, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee snapped: “What rollback?” Alagiri fell silent.
Banerjee said later, “I am unhappy and we do not support the hike.” But she clarified, “We do not want to quarrel as it won’t look nice. I will talk to the government to reconsider”.
The government did consult allies on Thursday before taking the decision.
Petroleum Minister Murli Deora spoke to DMK’s A. Raja and Mukherjee had an hour-long discussion with Banerjee. The Trinamool leader made it clear that she will not attend the EgoM as it could send a wrong signal to her electorate.
At Friday’s meeting, Agriculture Minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar said that if the government wanted a hike it must not dither on it. “If God is willing, prices will come down in future.”
The Congress was on the defensive. “The government must have been constrained to take this step,” said spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan.
Privately many Congress workers expressed their unhappiness with the hike that is being seen as hurting the aam aadmi.
The BJP demanded that the taxes should be rationalised to make fuel cheaper and dismissed the government’s defence that it was the NDA that had started to dismantle the administered pricing mechanism first.