New Delhi, May 23: The Congress-led central government Wednesday came under fierce attack from the opposition and its own constituents over the sharpest petrol price hike ever of over Rs.7 a litre.
The decision, coming a day after the budget session of parliament ended, created a political uproar with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leading the charge against the government.
The BJP accused the government of mismanaging the economy and demanded a rollback in the hike.
“It’s atrocious and unbelievable. The UPA government on its third anniversary has given the gift of fuel hike to the people,” said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.
“This is injustice and there is no justification for this,” he said.
BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain warned that the Congress would be taught a lesson in the general elections, adding that the UPA allies would face collateral damage for being seen to support the Congress over the unpopular move. He accused the UPA of celebrating three years in power Tuesday when the economy was reeling.
Hussain said the price hike has exposed the government’s claims of standing up for the common man.
“The government had taken this step emboldened by the presence of new allies,” he said, alluding to leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal sharing the stage with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi at the anniversary celebrations.
The Communist parties, too, slammed the hike.
leader Sitaram Yechury of the CPI-M said that the government had put enormous burden on people. He said it seemed the government was not subsidising people but people were subsidising the government.
D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI) said: “It will burden the common people and we will protest on the streets and the government will have to rollback the hike.”
Congress ally, Trinamool Congress, which has fiercely opposed hike in prices of petroleum products in the past, slammed the move but said it will not pull out of government. The party said it was not consulted over the move.
Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee opposed the hike.
“As we have a commitment to support the government and we do not want political instability, we are not pulling out. But that does not mean we will not oppose the decision. The hike is unjust. We are really pained and saddened,” Banerjee told the media at the state secretariat in Kolkata.
A defensive Congress, however, took refuge in the high global prices of oil. “Global prices are up and the oil companies take their own decisions after the deregulation of petrol prices. India is part of the world and so it is affected too,” said Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi.
Political observers said the timing of hike was not accidental as it came a day after the budget session ended and the Congress celebrated the third anniversary of the UPA government with Mulayam Singh Yadav and lalu Prasad on the podium of the UPA anniversary dinner.
They said the presence of Yadav at the podium where UPA’s report to people was released was meant to send out a message about the Congress having support in the lok Sabha in the event of any ally suddenly deciding to pull the plug.
“The SP support will come handy. It will allow the government to pass over (a crisis),” N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies, told IANS.
State-controlled refiners hiked petrol prices by a steep Rs.6.28 per litre, exclusive of taxes, effective from midnight Wednesday. The hike will be between Rs.7.54 and Rs.7.98 in the four metros and would vary in other cities depending on the state levies.