Minister concerned about inflation; Thomas Isaac in agreement with him

Finance Minister K.M. Mani was on Thursday critical of the Union Budget, saying it has not suggested any scientific, strong and fundamental measures to address the geometrical increase in the price of commodities and services that directly affected the life of the common man.

At a discussion on the Budget here, he said the monthly increase in fuel prices caused inflation most. He said by allowing oil companies to increase fuel prices “indiscriminately,” the Centre had given the profit-driven firms a boon akin to that given to Bhasmasura, a demon in Hindu mythology who was granted the power to reduce to ashes whatever he touched.

Did not the Centre and the Union Finance Minister have the responsibility to introduce a scientific mechanism to regulate fuel prices instead of leaving the matter to the sole discretion of the oil firms, he asked.

“A fuel price increase may be necessary. Do so, if need be. But have a sound mechanism to decide fuel pricing. I am not arguing that the old system of administrated pricing should be brought back,” he said.

Mr. Mani said he felt disappointed that the Centre had made no allocation for the Vizhinjam port project while it lavished money on upcoming projects in Tuticorin, a direct competitor.

The Budget did not address India’s current account and foreign exchange deficits, much of it caused by the unchecked import of gold.

Unlike most post-Budget discussions which tend to be predictably tedious, this one organised by the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee saw veteran leaders enthral the audience with their clever and politically suggestive wordplay.

When Power Minister Aryadan Muhammad intervened midway to correct Mr. Mani, the Finance Minister said, “Aryadan has the power to make day seem like night and night like day.”

In agreement

The former Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac, who spoke next, said: “These days I am inclined to agree with Mani sir. I share his disappointment. I will take on from where he has stopped.” His apparently tongue-in-cheek comment had the listeners, most of them khadi-clad Congress leaders, in splits.

His remark seemed to have touched a nerve in the wake of a rumour that Finance Minister K.M. Mani, an old hand at coalition politics, had come tantalisingly close to the Opposition, apparently reminding several ruling front leaders of their “thin majority” in the Legislative Assembly.

Mr. Muhammad parried Dr. Isaac’s riposte by stating that the former Finance Minister’s criticism of the Budget “reflected the mindset and sentiments of a regional party.”

He said the Congress was a national party and could not afford to think parochially. He said the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was to the best of his knowledge a party with a broad national outlook.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala and the economist B.A. Prakash were present.