A number of political parties, including some that are supporting the UPA government, came down heavily on the central government for its decision to raise the prices of petrol and diesel.
During the first day of the Budget session on Thursday, two of the government's allies, the DMK and Trinamool Congress, joined the Opposition to demand a rollback of the diesel and petrol price hike effected Wednesday night, saying it will hit the 'aam aadmi (common man).'
Many Congress MPs too could be seen approaching Congress President Sonia Gandhi with a request to rollback at least the hike in the price of diesel; they said this would help the farmers who were already affected by the poor monsoon.
Some of the most critical comments came from DMK's T R Baalu, who was angry that the government had not consulted the allies on such a crucial decision nor routed it through the Cabinet. The government at the Centre is not just a Congress government that its core group decides such matters and get them implemented, he warned, threatening serious consequences if such unilateral action is repeated.
"This government is not a unitary (Congress) government but is supported by the DMK and Trinamool Congress. It (the hike in fuel prices) is not at all good. It should have been discussed with party leaders and also in the Cabinet," Baalu said. He added that he "strongly condemns" the decision. "It should not recur. I am saying this as a close friend of Congress," he said.
The Lok Sabha remained paralysed as the House was adjourned twice for 20 and 15 minutes and finally for the day, without transacting any business except for the tabling of the economic survey and the obituary remarks by the Speaker. The Rajya Sabha continued in session after the entire Opposition walked out in protest.
The government, however, stood firm, ruling out any immediate rollback but promising to reduce the prices as and when the international crude prices drop. It went on to assert that the increase in the fuel rates was minimal, keeping in mind the 'interests of the aam aadmi.'
Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, who responded in the Lok Sabha to over an hour's attack from all sides, justified the hike. He said, "In view of the continuous rise in global crude prices, a marginal increase had become unavoidable." He wanted state governments to reduce sales tax to minimise the burden on the people.
The interest of the aam aadmi was uppermost in the government's mind, he said, pointing out that diesel and petrol prices were increased by 'only' Rs 2 and Rs 4 a litre respectively, as against the proposal to hike them by Rs 4.11 and Rs 6.90 respectively. He argued that the interests of poor and middle class had prevailed as the government had not increased the LPG price.
Trinamool member Sudip Bandopadhyay was more circumspect, saying his party was "not happy" with the hike and it should be revoked. "We understand that international crude prices have gone up. But this will affect common people," he said, asking Deora to reconsider the decision. He also sought an assurance that the prices would be reduced when global prices fall.
Terming the timing of the appointment 'unparliamentary,' BJP deputy leader Sushma Swaraj, CPI (M) leader Basudeb Acharia, Arjun Charan Sethi (BJD) and other opposition leaders said the government should not have announced the decision just hours before Parliament meet.
They claimed it was an act of contempt against the House and a betrayal of the people as the hike will have cascading effect on the prices of all commodities at a time when the people expected the government to bring down prices.
Criticising the government's move to hike oil prices before the Budget, Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh said the decision is a mockery of the Congress' slogan of being with the common man.
"The government's move to hike the prices of petrol and diesel goes against the common man. This makes a mockery of the Congress party's slogan of 'Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath (the Congress is with the common man),'" Singh told reporters outside Parliament in New Delhi.
He said there is a huge difference between what the Congress says and what it does.
The government on Wednesday hiked petrol and diesel prices by Rs 4 and Rs 2 per litre respectively.
"We are in a very ridiculous situation. We are supporting the government but at the same time we not in the government. We have no information about what is happening and we come to know about the things through newspapers only," Singh said.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad said, "It is an injustice to the poor people of the country. Prices of diesel should rather have been decreased."
BJP Vice President Venkaiah Naidu termed the step as "betrayal of the common man."
He added, "It's a mockery of democracy... it's an insult of Parliament. There is no rationale in increasing the price just before the Budget session without having any discussion on it. They should have debated the matter in Parliament and then taken a decision."
Attacking the Congress over the move, the BJP leader said, "They were talking about the common people before election. They have now betrayed them. It's a betrayal."
Etah MP and former BJP leader Kalyan Singh said the poor in the country will be at the receiving end with this decision.
"This is an anti-poor step by the government. The government has gone back on its promise of bringing down price rise within 100 days. The rise in petrol prices will lead to a sharp rise in the prices of commodities."
CPI-M politburo member Brinda Karat said the government's move to hike oil prices a day before the budget session shows how seriously the government views Parliament.
"What was the haste for it? Who is benefitting out of it? It's very wrong. This should be immediately rolled back." Karat said.