| Law minister H.R. Bhardwaj and railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav leave the cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi on Tuesday. (AFP)
New Delhi, Sept. 6: Ruling alliance partners bound for the Bihar elections would be relieved that kerosene and cooking gas prices have not been raised.
But the Left and the Opposition have attacked the decision to make petrol and diesel costlier, with the CPM condemning it as “unjustifiable” and the BJP announcing a two-day countrywide protest from tomorrow.
Railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav unexpectedly turned up in Delhi this morning, hours before petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was to announce the revised fuel prices. The Rashtriya Janata Dal president had been in Patna for the past few days.
His party and Union ministry colleague Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, the state election presumably not far from his mind, was “delighted” that kerosene and LPG had been spared a hike. This means the poor, the Dalits and the lower middle class can breathe easy, the minister declared.
“Those who can afford to buy cars will not mind spending a little extra on petrol and diesel. But the slightest hike in kerosene prices makes a hole in the poor man’s pocket. The household budgets among the middle income groups get badly affected by (an) increase in LPG prices,” Singh said.
Lok Janshakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan 'whose alliance with the Congress has been under pressure ' remained silent; and his ally and a crucial player in the Bihar elections, the CPI, reacted cautiously.
“There was no need for the hike in petrol and diesel prices,” D. Raja said. “But we can only be grateful for small mercies.”
The rise in petrol and diesel prices ' the second since June ' “would have a cascading effect on overall prices. That does not augur well for the poor and the middle class,” Raja said.
Key central ally CPM reacted much more strongly, asking party units across the country to organise protests.
“The politburo regards the increase in the prices of petrol and diesel as unjustifiable.... In protest against these burdens being imposed on the people, it calls upon all its units to mobilise people and immediately organise protests,” a party release said.
The CPM argued that the two-rupee increase in the price of diesel would hit farmers and push up transport costs, raising prices across the board. The Centre should instead have rolled back the hikes in customs and excise duties on petroleum products to offset the rise in global oil prices, it said.
BJP leader Pramod Mahajan asked for a rollback. “Coming so soon after the recent price hike, the government should have made some sacrifices in its treasury receipts instead of heaping hardships on the common people by this increase,” he said.