Senior Congress leader Anil Shastri's criticism of the recent hike in fuel prices on a micro blogging site has embarrassed his party. On Monday, party spokesman Manish Tewari tried to downplay Mr. Shastri's tweet, saying he would check the veracity of the remarks attributed to him, adding that a tweet was often misunderstood because it could be taken out of context on account of its limited length.
“Increase in prices of kerosene and cooking gas is disastrous,” Mr. Shastri, Editor of the party mouthpiece Sandesh and a special invitee to the Congress Working Committee, had written on Twitter, adding, “The common man is badly affected. Soniaji must immediately intervene.”
Later, Mr. Shastri defended his tweet, saying what he had written was not against the party line, adding that perhaps, there might have been compulsions forcing the government to raise the prices, and that his appeal to Ms. Gandhi was similar to appeals he had made in the past. Mr. Shastri's tweet, notwithstanding his “clarification,” has caused discomfiture in the party, given that all the Opposition parties are united in their criticism of the hike.
Mr. Tewari mounted a stout defence of the increase in fuel prices, saying that “economics has a logic. It cannot run on rhetoric.” Sometimes, the government has to take “tough economic decisions” in the national interest, he said, stressing, “there is wisdom in the people to take it in the right spirit.”
He justified the hike and the dismantling of the Administered Price Mechanism for petrol, drawing attention to the fact that 70 per cent of India's oil needs were met through imports, and that the country did not play a role in fixing prices of petroleum products internationally. He also underscored the need to have a regulator in the era of decontrol in the petroleum sector and called for the implementation of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) Act. However, when pressed, he conceded that it was a “matter of concern” when a burden was passed on to the common man. Fuel prices were increased owing to circumstances beyond the government's control, he said.
On whether there could be a rollback of prices, he virtually ruled it out saying that the government had taken the decision after taking all aspects into consideration.