The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt and party skid on petrol
- High command word final: Minister

New Delhi, June 6: The Manmohan Singh government and the Congress slipped on an oil price spill and skidded towards a standoff but the Centre indicated late tonight that all options are open.

The Congress publicly opposed the steep hike in fuel prices ' Rs 4 a litre for petrol and Rs 2 for diesel ' and expressed the hope that a “partial rollback” would be announced. Last night’s increase had taken the price of petrol beyond Rs 50 for the first time.

Throughout the day, the government gave the impression that it is resisting pressure to bring down the prices, which were raised 24 hours ago. “I do not think there is a need to roll back the hike at this point of time,” petroleum minister Murli Deora said during the day.

However, after a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Deora did not sound so categorical. “Nothing can be ruled out. Whatever the high command decides, we will have to abide,” the minister said.

Deora clarified that there was no reconsideration of yesterday’s cabinet decision at his level but he hastened to add: “We are a responsible government which is responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people. Tomorrow is another day. What happens tomorrow we will see.”

Congress sources said the Prime Minister, keen to breathe life into reforms that had been put on hold because of the Assembly polls, was averse to reversing or moderating the price decision taken on hard facts and figures.

If the government eventually blinks as Deora seemed to be suggesting, it will be a big setback to the Prime Minister because he himself had chaired the cabinet meeting that cleared the price rise.

Unsure of the political response, petroleum ministry sources said a revised price structure is being kept on stand-by under which the petrol price would be lowered by Re 1 and diesel by 50 paise a litre.

“There’s no question of the Congress president directly intervening. The party has let its position be known to the government and the ball is in its court now. But we hope the government understands and appreciates our compulsions as well,” a Congress leader said.

But Congress sources pointed out that the party’s spokespersons would not have publicly spoken out against a cabinet decision without keeping 10 Janpath in the picture.

At a core committee meeting last Friday, attended by the Prime Minister, the party conveyed to the government that the price increase should be limited to Rs 2 to 3 for petrol.

This is the first time the Congress has pitted itself against its own government and declared openly that the party’s views should not be “disregarded” when crucial decisions are taken.

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