The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Out of power and spitting fire
- NDA raised fuel prices on 20 occasions, but no bandhs then

Calcutta, Dec. 6: Five years ago, when she was part of the NDA, in power at the Centre, a hike in fuel prices effected by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government would evoke stray noises from Mamata Banerjee or at best a resignation threat.

Anything more then would have rocked her boat in Delhi.

In 2004, out of power and limelight, she did not hesitate to put on the familiar war boots and foist a bandh on Bengal to protest against the hike in prices of petroleum products.

'The issue (price hike) is serious, but our approach to it is not serious enough to earn popular support,' said Muzaffar Khan, a state BJP leader. Mamata's Trinamul Congress is an ally of the BJP.

'Though we are an ally of Trinamul, it must be said that our failure to protest against the hikes then has not been forgotten. We have to try and adopt a consistent approach.'

After having been inducted as railway minister in Vajpayee's cabinet in 1999, Mamata protested against fuel price hikes only thrice till she resigned following the Tehelka scam in March 2001.

Vajpayee's government raised fuel prices on about 20 occasions in its five-year term, but Mamata did not call a single bandh in protest.

'In the past five years, fuel prices were hiked at least 20 times, but in some cases they were negligible. There were seven major hikes in diesel prices between 1999 and January 2004', said Gautam Dutta, general manager, Indian Oil Corporation. (see chart)

Mamata had been out of the NDA for over a year after her resignation in March 2001. She rejoined in August 2002 when former defence minister and NDA convener George Fernandes addressed a Trinamul rally in Calcutta. Though she launched a string of movements for a year against the bifurcation of Eastern Railways, targeting then railway minister Nitish Kumar, she did not protest against price hikes.

After reinducting her into the cabinet in September 2003, Vajpayee's government increased the price of diesel to Rs 23.99 a litre, but she chose to look the other way.

Mamata is now finding it difficult to sell her rationale for a 'greater movement' against price hike. She has already announced a law-violation programme at Esplanade on December 22, to be followed by a fortnight's agitation across the state. A senior Trinamul leader said: 'It would have been wiser had Mamata withdrawn the bandh citing the court's stricture against it.'

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