When the UPA was in power, then rising BJP politician Smriti Irani had hit the streets with gas cylinders to protest hikes in fuel prices.
On Sunday, the now Union minister seemed put off when acting Mahila Congress president Netta D’Souza went up to her on an aircraft to flag the savage rise in petrol and LPG prices on the Narendra Modi government’s watch.
The two women were on the same Indigo flight and the interaction happened partly inside the plane and partly in an aerobridge while they were getting off at Guwahati airport.
A 1.11-minute video of the interaction uploaded by the Congress leader on her Twitter handle at 12.07pm had attracted over 22,800 “likes” by 9pm.
Some of Irani’s answers are not clearly audible but she can be heard saying it would be “lovely if I am not accosted” and, at another point, “Please don’t lie.”
D’Souza told The Telegraph the women and child development minister had pointed to the free Covid vaccines offered by the Modi government as a counterpoint to the price rise.
However, the free jabs can hardly be seen as a favour since India’s immunisation programme, which vaccinates millions of children against a host of diseases, has been entirely free since Independence.
“Faced Modi Minister @smritiirani ji, enroute to Guwahati. When asked about Unbearable Rising Prices of LPG, she blamed Vaccines, Raashan & even the poor! Do watch the video excerpts, on how she reacted to common people’s misery!” D’Souza tweeted.
D’Souza, on a two-day visit to attend the Assam Mahila Congress executive here, told this newspaper that as a citizen of the country she had wanted to know Irani’s “reaction” to the savage price rise.
“To this I received a reply that was non-satisfactory, that spoke volumes about what the government thinks about the citizens,” D’Souza said.
“To my surprise, she told me about vaccines being given free of cost and ration cards being given, which does not account for the increase in the price of (cooking) gas and other essential commodities.”
D’Souza said she had questioned Irani because she was a Union minister and also because she had protested aggressively against fuel price rise during UPA rule.
In 2011, Irani had tweeted: “Yet another hike in petrol prices. UPA seems 2 ignore public outcry over price rise. Arrogance of power, unsympathetic 2 d needs of d poor.”
D’Souza said: “Years ago she had raised her voice against the increase in the rates of gas cylinders -- pre-2014 elections, when the rates were raised from Rs 415 to Rs 435. Now the (prices are) Rs 1,000-plus.”
She added: “She (Irani) was in the first class. I saw her posing for pictures with the airhostess and staff.... While deboarding I questioned the honourable minister who in 2014 was a common citizen and was very concerned about the people of the nation but is not bothered today....
“I told her she is a minister and a minister should be ready to be answerable anytime…. They have to answer because they are accountable to the people, they are the people’s servants.”
D’Souza had also asked Irani, who is in Guwahati on an official trip, how people would celebrate Bihu, Assam’s biggest festival which starts next week, “without stoves, without gas”. To this, she said, Irani accused her of lying.
Assam minister Pijush Hazarika of the BJP criticised the Congress over the development.
“In our culture, guest has the status of God. The abusive manner in which Congress Mahila President @dnettaharassed and acousted (sic) @smritiiraniji at Guwahati airport is not reflective of our warm Assamese culture,” he tweeted.
In another tweet, he said: “We have democratic platforms to engage in debate, aero bridge is not the place. It’s not surprising that Congress has little or no understanding of Assamese values and ethos.”
Newly appointed Assam Mahila Congress president Mira Borthakur, who received D’Souza at the airport, told this newspaper: “In a democratic country, whom will we question as a citizen? We will have to seek answers from the government and their representatives. Since they prevent us from raising questions, we will question them wherever and whenever we meet them.”
The Opposition’s demands for discussions on the price rise had been shot down in both Houses during the recent session of Parliament.
The Congress has been protesting across the country against the skyrocketing prices. It has held demonstrations in Assam too since March 22.