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Few buyers for PC’s price line
- Opposition storms out, party protests

New Delhi, July 28: P. Chidambaram faced empty Opposition benches, walkouts by allies and protests from party colleagues today as he defended the government in Parliament on the spiralling prices.

The walkouts came one by one as the finance minister’s reply to the Lok Sabha debate on prices got under way.

First, the BJP-led Opposition stormed out. The Samajwadi Party followed. The entire Left trooped out next, and ruling coalition partner Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) brought up the rear.

But the unkindest cut was still to come. Some Congress backbenchers began interrupting the minister.

“We are in the government, but what do we tell the people'” a Congress MP asked, rising from his seat a few rows behind the finance minister.

An upset Chidambaram was heard complaining to urban development minister S. Jaipal Reddy about how party whips were slipping in their job of getting their own MPs to toe the line.

In quick succession, Congress members Manvendra Singh, Harisinh Chavda and Rajesh Mishra interrupted the minister. A couple of other MPs tried to pacify them.

Order restored, Chidambaram continued, assuring the House that the government was doing everything possible to “moderate” the inflation.

The BJP’s deputy leader of the Opposition, V.K. Malhotra, had led the first walkout, complaining the minister had not got down to explaining how the government planned to curb the rising prices of essentials. At that stage, Chidambaram had been unfazed.

He joked that the Opposition MPs probably wanted to leave early for the weekend.

Later, during Chidambaram’s speech, the Left MPs rose demanding how the government planned to strengthen the public distribution system. The minister promised to cover that in his reply. But CPM member Basudeb Acharya and the CPI’s Gurudas Das Gupta wouldn’t listen.

Das Gupta asked Chidambaram to look at the empty benches and realise how “isolated” the government had become.

Minutes later, the rifts within the ruling allies began to show. Devendra Prasad Yadav and Ram Kripal Yadav of the RJD interrupted the minister, asking what the government had done to rein in hoarders.

But Chidambaram was saved one embarrassment. The walkouts left only about 30 members in the Lok Sabha, far below the quorum required to run the House. But a member has to point this out to the Chair before the quorum rule can kick in. Nobody did.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi was among those who sat through Chidambaram’s reply.

Some Left members returned around the time the minister was winding up his address. This gave them a chance to ask for “clarifications” on his reply.

The minister said that though the whole price index was in check, consumer prices ' mainly wheat, pulses and sugar ' had risen. But he said the situation would stabilise in the coming months when wheat imports hit the market and the next pulses crop was harvested. The sugarcane crop is also likely to be good.

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