The Congress faces the spectre of slipping on an oil slick. The party and the government it leads came under attack not just from the Opposition but also from its own partners after it announced a hike in oil prices on Wednesday.
“There will be an impact. The question is how to mitigate it,” said a Congress leader.
It wasn’t surprising that the BJP dubbed the hike “economic terrorism” and linked it with its other grouse that the UPA has failed to counter terror. Its ally, the BJD, demanded withdrawal of the tariff, and the AIADMK sought a rollback.
UPA supporters promptly sought to distance themselves from one of the most unpopular acts of the government.
The Left parties, providing outside support, have called for a bandh. The RJD demanded a rollback and the PMK asked for reconsideration on LPG prices. RJD’s Lalu Yadav went public saying that he would not increase rail fares. Only the NCP’s Sharad Pawar was supportive.
Prime Minister Manmohan, talking almost like a family patriach facing a crisis, addressed the nation to explain the rationale for the hike that he did not want but had to go for.
In the face of an attack from all sides, the Congress came up with a comparative table to show that the NDA had hiked petrol prices 19 times, diesel 17 times, LPG thrice and even raised the price of the poor man’s fuel, kerosene which the UPA has not touched.
The Prime Minister exhorted state governments to reduce state taxes and levies to minimise the impact. With the AICC also issuing advice in this regard, Congress-ruled states are bound to respond.
The CPI-M led governments of West Bengal and Kerala had immediately decided to give sales tax concessions on petroleum products. It remains to be seen whether BJP-ruled states will cut taxes.
Will there be a rollback? Petroleum Minister Murli Deora appeared to rule it out. “We will not indulge in speculation,” said AICC spokesman Manish Tiwari.