In a typically stand-up-and-be-counted move, Trinamool Congress boss Mamata Banerjee has triggered the first internal political crisis of the second UPA government by threatening to withdraw support following Thursday’s petrol price hike.
But Singh defended the price hike in a statement in Cannes, pre-empting Banerjee. “We must move in the direction of decontrolling more prices. I have no hesitation in saying that markets must find their own levels.”
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, too, said in Delhi that while prices of diesel, kerosene and cooking gas were controlled by the government, petrol was a de-controlled item.
A large section of the Congress saw Banerjee’s threat more as political posturing with an eye on her home audience, but the party did not want to take a chance and urged the government to “look into the matter very seriously”.
The reason: Other UPA allies, such as the DMK, NCP and National Conference, joined the anti-Centre chorus on Friday, sending an already jittery Congress scurrying for cover.
But party spokesperson Abhishek Singvhi said, “We are not here to fetter the jurisdiction and work of the government… we leave it to the discretion of the government to decide these steps.”
Once during the NDA regime, Banerjee actually went ahead and withdrew support in 2001, following a sting operation showing then party chief Bangaru Laxman accepting a bribe, but joined back in 2003.
Earlier in Kolkata, Banerjee said, “Petro prices were raised 11 times in the past 12 months. Never have we been consulted before the decisions that put common people in great distress.”
She called up rural development minister Jairam Ramesh around 9.30pm on Thursday to express her dissatisfaction. She also talked to commerce minister Anand Sharma in Kolkata on Friday morning.
According to Trinamool sources, Banerjee complained that the finance ministry had not only failed to control inflation, but had also allowed the situation to slip farther. She was also upset about the allies being kept in the dark on the price hike issue.