Under fire from the Opposition and some UPA constituents over his remarks about the objection raised by consumers to the inevitable hike in the prices of some food commodities, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday said he “is shocked and disgusted by the deliberate distortion of the relevant question and answer.”

The Opposition parties have charged Mr. Chidambaram with being “heartless and insensitive” to the middle class, protesting his remarks that people paid for mineral water and ice cream but objected to a hike in rice and wheat prices.

The Janata Dal (United) said the truth had “accidentally” come out from the mouth of a “supporter” of market forces.

The Nationalist Congress Party, a UPA constituent, also took exception to the Minister’s remarks. “I wish the common man in India was as prosperous as Chidambaram. I did not expect this kind of a sarcastic remark from a cultured and educated man like Chidambaram,” said NCP spokesperson D.P. Tripathi.

The Minister, on his part, insisted that he did not ‘mock’ or ‘chide’ anyone and that he spoke matter-of-factly.

Mr. Chidambaram said his response was to a query on food inflation, at a news conference in Bangalore on Tuesday, and that he gave an elaborate answer on how a hike in procurement prices inevitably led to higher food prices. It was against this background that he had said, “Sometimes, and I have written about this once, we are prepared to pay fifteen rupees for a bottle of water but we will not bear one rupee increase in the price of a kilo of wheat or a kilo of rice. We are prepared to pay rupees twenty for an ice cream cone but won’t pay one rupee more for a kilo of wheat or rice.”

Bharatiya Janata Party chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said it was unfair on the part of the Home Minister to accuse the media of distorting his statement when the whole country saw and heard what he had said. The Home Minister’s comment was akin to rubbing salt into the wound of the common man, in whose name the Congress came to power, Mr. Prasad said.

“Mr. Chidambaram, kindly tell the country what is the cost of a thali [set meal] for a common man. You venture out in Delhi itself and you will know,” Mr. Prasad said. He wanted to know if a mother taking her child to India Gate to have ice cream was a crime.

“Chidambaram is showering insult and humiliation on the common man,” Mr. Prasad alleged, adding this government had ruined the economy and the people were bearing the onslaught of its corruption and price rise.

JD (U) president and NDA convener Sharad Yadav said: “It is right. What wrong did he [Chidambaram] say? But Chidambaram is also a supporter of market forces and that is why he used the ice cream imagery. How many poor [people] eat ice cream? In fact, a small truth has accidentally come out from the mouth of a supporter of market forces while he was actually trying to defend them.”

Mr. Yadav said he was surprised at noises being made about the prices of foodgrains and vegetables only, when prices of all commodities used by the common man were on the rise.

“Nobody talks about rise in the prices of television, refrigerator and car. But when foodgrain prices rise, people make noise. Even in the case of foodgrains, the farmer gets a pittance while the middlemen are the actual beneficiaries. It is the government’s job to check such middlemen.”

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