Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday managed to convince the UPA allies on fuel price hike, and got them on board with the Congress MPs to counter an aggressive Opposition in Parliament.
Earlier during the day, the Opposition and UPA backers such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party forced adjournments of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, demanding a rollback of the price hike.
Mukherjee, who announced the hike in the Budget on February 26, set the tone for the counterattack in separate briefings for Congress MPs, and leaders from the Trinamool Congress, DMK, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Indian Union Muslim League.
He accused the BJP-led NDA government of hiking fuel prices 33 times in six years (between 1998 and 2004) even when global prices were low. The UPA did it only five times in six years, he said, adding the government had merely withdrawn partially its earlier cut in the excise duty.
“The government explained to allies the rationale behind the decision,’’ said Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K Bansal.
But the Trinamool and the DMK — who have been calling for a rollback — continue to hope that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi will “do something’’.
With Singh also in touch with allies, the government managed to soften them, arguing that the economy could absorb the 0.4 per cent impact on inflation.
But the government has other bush fires to fight. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, an NCP leader, like Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, called for scrapping 10 per cent service tax on domestic air travel.
"We will request for a complete rollback," Patel said in Hyderabad. Banerjee wanted the PM to reverse the tax, as it would burden the railways with an additional Rs 6,000 crore.
With the Trinamool and DMK ruling out threat to the coalition, the BJP allowed Parliament to function post-lunch.
The two Houses started the debate on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address.
But in the Rajya Sabha, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s reply to the price-rise debate was marred by disruptions, with BJP’s Arun Jaitley and SS Ahluwalia accusing the PM of breaching parliamentary privilege by ruling out rollback outside the House.