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Congress signals partial roll back as Trinamool, allies up the ante

Saturday November 05, 2011 10:01:26 AM, IANS

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New Delhi: With Trinamool Congress and other United Progressive Alliance (UPA) constituents upping the ante over the latest hike in prices of petrol, the Congress Friday sought to contain the damage by signalling a rethink in the government on the volatile issue and a possible partial rollback.

Congress sources said the party was not giving due credence to the stinging attack by Trinamool Congress over "repeated unilateral decisions" by the government and there could be partial roll back in the Rs 1.80 increase in petrol prices effective from Friday.

Apart from Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who has sought a meeting with the prime minister on the issue, other allies of Congress in the UPA also expressed their concern over the rising cost of petroleum products which have a cascading effect on transport cost of food items.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and National Conference said repeated hike in petrol prices burden the common man and they would raise the issue within the government. The DMK said the government should consider going back to administered price mechanism on petrol prices.

Congress sources expressed optimism that the matter would be resolved after Banerjee meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his return from Cannes after G 20 meeting.

A Congress leader said Banerjee's meeting with her MPs Friday was not only meant as a message to the Congress to give her a greater say in government decisions but also an attempt to shift focus from the problems being faced by her government in the state. "

"The Maoist problem is rising again and the government has faced criticism over health care facilities... The good image her government enjoyed has begun to be affected. There could be an attempt at some diversion," the Congress leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity , told IANS.

He said that like many other regional party leaders, Banerjee also wants to keep a tight grip over elected representatives of her party and Friday's meeting with party MPs should be seen in this context.

Congress leaders admitted that any dissensions in the UPA on an issue such as petroleum prices could cost the party heavily in the assembly polls to five states - Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Punjab and Goa - due to take place in the first half of next year.

Uttar Pradesh is particularly crucial to party as its general secretary Rahul Gandhi has been guiding the poll effort in the state.

Trinamool Congress MPs Friday threatened to pull out of the UPA government to protest the "repeated unilateral decisions" to raise prices of petro products and coal but Banerjee kept the decision pending and requested for a meeting with the prime minister.

Trinamool Congress is the second largest constituent of UPA and if it were to quit the government it will reduce the government to a minority. The UPA government is already tackling corruption scandals and high food inflation.

Congress sources also admitted that Trinamool Congress threat is likely to delay any plans of the government to raise prices of cooking gas and diesel. The petroleum ministry had signalled its intention to call a meeting of group of ministers on the issue.

Officially, the Congress sought to downplay the stinging criticism from Trinamool Congress on the petrol price hike and said the government would provide "whatever relief possible" and also address "genuine concerns" by a detailed discussion.

"I read her and other allies' comments as genuine concerns. (The concerns) will be met after a detailed discussion...," Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, adding "every element of coalition will be heard with understanding, compassion and sensitivity" during discussions in the government.









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