The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singh battles rollback blaze
PM rules out shift, party still hopeful

New Delhi, June 7: The Prime Minister is believed to have made it clear there would be no rollback of the prices of petrol and diesel, but the Congress is nursing hopes of a review sometime later.

“There will be no rollback; we will have to face it,” Manmohan Singh is learnt to have told petroleum minister Murli Deora when they met this afternoon.

After such an unequivocal assertion attributed to the Prime Minister began doing the rounds, the Congress found it difficult to raise the pitch in public, though the party stood by the demand for a “partial rollback”.

But the political damage inflicted by the controversy ' for the first time, the party leadership and the government appeared to be working at cross-purposes in public ' left most Congress leaders flummoxed.

Sources claimed that Deora, after a meeting with Sonia Gandhi yesterday, had told a senior functionary that the price of petrol would be brought down but it may take time.

They wondered if the minister had jumped the gun when he gave the assurance, and if he had said it “seriously” or just to please Sonia.

Deora’s statements ' he had suggested that the “high command’s” wishes were final ' gave the impression that Prime Minister is not being allowed the elbow-room to enforce a decision taken by the cabinet.

Sources close to the Prime Minister confirmed his opposition to a rollback and underscored three points.

One, the decision was taken after months of discussions at all levels, including some with Sonia and her political aides. Two, the hike was based on “sound economics”. Three, if the Prime Minister was “forced” to retreat so soon, it will undermine his authority.

The party also realised that a perception was growing that under the “division of labour” between Manmohan and Sonia, “unpopular” decisions were being attributed to the Prime Minister and the credit for any reconsideration is being given to the party leadership.

Sources said that at the Prime Minister’s recent meetings with Sonia, she was told the price hikes were “overdue” and that the government had made a “major” concession to the “aam-aadmi” by sparing kerosene and cooking gas. Apparently, Sonia did not make an intervention.

The best scenario for the Congress will be a marginal rollback after a “decent” interval to avoid letting it appear as though the Prime Minister was “caving” in to pressure from the party and the Left.

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