The Telegraph
Sunday , February 28 , 2010
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Cong keeps faith in allies

New Delhi, Feb. 27: The Congress leadership is confident that the allies would understand the Centre’s compulsion and economic logic behind the fuel price rise and not insist on a rollback.

The party feels that the demand by the Trinamul Congress and the DMK for the rollback was more of a public posturing than a political strategy.

Congress leaders said no political party liked to welcome a hike in prices but the government of the day could not overlook the larger goals of fiscal prudence and addressing the concerns of the poor. They said the petroleum price increase had not come out of the blue as rationalisation of subsidies was on the cards.

While the government is determined not to review its decision, the Congress is also not in favour of creating any pressure this time. Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee’s opposition is being viewed in the context of electoral pressures (key civic elections are scheduled in Bengal in a few months). Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK leader K. Karunanidhi, too, joined the chorus, saying that the fuel price hike would have a cascading effect on the high food inflation.

The DMK leader wrote identical letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seeking their intervention to ensure the withdrawal of the duty hike on diesel at least. Congress sources said the allies understood the need for rationalisation of petroleum subsidies and that the recommendations of the Kirit Parikh Committee had been discussed with them. “It is unfair to call it a hike. The government had withdrawn the excise duty in the wake of high international prices of crude oil. The government cannot continue with this subsidy forever. We should see the budget in totality as the moderate hike has been further diluted by a number of sops on tax schemes,” Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said.

The Congress does not foresee its allies developing an axis with the Opposition on the floor of Parliament even if they express their concerns for the common man owing to the price situation.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat warned of a nationwide agitation against the fuel price increase but added that it would be launched with other “secular-minded parties”. Karat’s clarification reflected the concern among the price protesters about being clubbed with the BJP.

An announcement on the agitation will be made tomorrow after consulting “other Left and secular-minded parties”, Karat said in Kerala.

The Opposition’s unity will be tested sooner than later as the government is planning to introduce the Women’s Reservation Bill in this session itself. The BJP’s bonhomie with the RJD, Janata Dal (United) and the Samajwadi Party is expected to explode as these parties oppose the women’s bill in its current form. Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the Opposition, continued with her strident posturing a day after a public show of solidarity with Lalu Yadav, her party’s pet aversion, and the Left, the BJP’s permanent enemy.

Sushma said: “This is a tired man’s budget. There is no dynamism in it... It lacks vision.”

Some Congress leaders smell a tacit understanding between the BJP and the Left in both Houses of Parliament but add that it is ephemeral and has no political significance.

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