New Delhi, Sept. 13: The Congress today asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi whether "economic terrorism", the term coined by him for the Manmohan Singh government in the context of petroleum prices, suited his regime far better as he doesn't even have the compelling factor of high international crude oil rates.
Accusing the government of looting consumers, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said: "The UPA government raised the prices of petroleum products in 2008 when international crude oil price touched an unprecedented high. Modi said the government indulged in economic terrorism. His government is selling petrol and diesel at a record high when the international crude oil price is at a record low."
Tewari added: "Should we use Modi's language? Can we ask, don't you qualify better to be an economic terrorist?" The Congress leader argued that the Modi government didn't have a rationale for constantly increasing prices and was only making up for shortfall in revenue caused by wrong economic policies.
The Congress has repeatedly said that the Modi government indulges in profiteering on oil as economic growth falters and the "half-baked" goods and services tax creates chaos in the market. Tewari said: "In 2017, investment is at its lowest since 1991. Economic growth is merely 3.91 if calculated by old methodology, the worst since 1979. We ask the government to explain to the nation the reasons for hiking oil prices."
Tewari reeled off figures. "In May 2014, petrol was sold at Rs 71.41 per litre when the crude oil rate was $108 per barrel. Now crude oil is $52 per barrel and petrol is Rs 79.48. Diesel in 2014 was Rs 55.29 and now Rs 62.37. An LPG cylinder cost Rs 414 in 2014 and (is now) Rs 466. Under-recovery of oil companies has come down drastically. In these circumstances, what could be the reason for fleecing the common man?"
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury also weighed on the issue with a tweet: "In past three years, the BJP Government has written off Rs 2 lakh crore of bank loans for the rich corporate. Are higher taxes on fuel being used to pay for this? Why is petrol being sold at Rs 79 when the real cost is Rs 31?" The Modi government has constantly raised excise duty on petroleum products since 2014.
The current Opposition, though, hasn't been able to make oil prices a political issue as it hasn't gone beyond issuing statements. When it was in the Opposition, the BJP was able to exploit public sentiment in a far more effective manner by organising demonstrations and resorting to attention-grabbing protests such as senior leaders taking to cycling. Modi always made scathing attacks on the UPA government for raising fuel prices, linking it to general financial mismanagement.
In June 2008, when there was a steep hike in prices, L.K. Advani had declared that the UPA government had signed its death warrant. This, despite the fact that then Prime Minister Manmohan was under intense pressure to reduce the subsidy bill when international crude prices crossed $130 per barrel. India imports over 80 per cent of its oil consumption.