Inflation scare gets to UPA

NCP lashes out at Rahuls Pawar remark; Cong mollifies angry ally

Inflation scare gets to UPA

The Congress, which leads the ruling UPA, on Wednesday found itself scurrying for cover in the wake of a blistering attack by its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), after party general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s purported attempt to indirectly blame Food and Public Distribution Minister Sharad Pawar for the government’s failure to check rising prices.

The NCP which is headed by Pawar said the remark reportedly made by Congress general secretary in Lucknow smacked of “arrogance”. It reminded the Congress that controlling  prices was “a collective responsibility” of the UPA government.

The Congress, however, sought to mollify the NCP with its spokesman Abhishek Singhvi claiming in the party’s routine news conference that Gandhi’s comment had in fact been erroneously reported by the media. Interacting with some students in Lucknow, Gandhi reportedly blamed “coalition constraints” for the UPA’s inability to effectively control food prices. His purported comment was perceived as an oblique criticism of Pawar for his failure to control prices.

It prompted NCP general secretary D P Tripathi to react strongly: “The Congress is not only the leading, but also primary party and any statement by a member of the leading party should not reflect arrogance.

“Today I am very, very sad that a very important political leader of the UPA and the Congress has made such a statement. Any statement from a leader of that party should reflect humility and not arrogance,” he added. Another NCP leader Tariq Anwar reminded the Congress that coalition was all about sharing collective responsibility.

The Congress said that Gandhi’s interaction with the students in Lucknow was open to media for only two minutes and fifty seconds and the party’s general secretary had not made any such remark during the presence of the journalists. Singhvi said that the media-reports had apparently been based on what the students had later told the journalists. “It was a clear case of misreporting,” he added. But, according to the sources, several Congress leaders are of the view that Gandhi would not have been completely wrong, had he really blamed NCP chief for the soaring prices, which had of late pushed the food inflation to 18.32 per cent.

Mamata ‘worried’

The Congress’ other ally  the Trinamool Congress (TMC) too gave vent to its ire over rising food prices recently.

TMC supremo and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee herself stated that her party was “worried” about the price rise. She also alleged that the TMC “was not consulted” when the Union government raised fuel prices. However, Pawar’s failure to bring down spiralling food prices had triggered criticism from within the UPA earlier also. Several senior Congress leaders had raised the issue even in the meetings of the party’s working committee and urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to make Pawar act “more seriously.”

Pawar's differences with other senior members of the UPA government again came to the fore on Tuesday, when he proposed to lift the ban on sugar export in a meeting convened by the prime minister for consultation on the issue of the price rise.

Home Minister P Chidambaram is understood to have strongly opposed the proposal and pointed out that the government should not lift the ban on export on sugar immediately as such a move could shoot up the prices in the domestic market and thus aggravate food inflation further.

With speculation rife about a reshuffle of the Union Cabinet some time in the middle of this month, the unhappiness of the Congress top brass on Pawar's way of dealing with rising prices of eatables also resulted in talks about possibility of his being relieved of the food and public distribution portfolio.

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