Opposition calls nationwide protest for Thursday
Despite the vociferous demands of the Opposition and UPA coalition partners including the Trinamool Congress for rolling back the diesel price hike and the decision on foreign direct investment in multibrand retail, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday appeared to be in no mood to buckle under pressure.
Hours after Dr. Singh utilised the Planning Commission platform to assert the resolve of his government to stay on course, the Opposition gave a call for a nation-wide protest on September 20.
At the full Planning Commission meeting, convened here under his chairmanship to approve the 12th Plan approach document with a lower growth target of 8.2 per cent for the five-year period, the Prime Minister countered criticism against the big bang reforms unveiled in the last two days.
Dr. Singh asserted that it would take “courage and some risks” to break the policy logjam while strongly arguing in favour of higher FDI and FII inflows.
Justifying the economic need for the hike in diesel price, he pointed out that rational energy pricing was critical especially when “our energy prices are out of line with world prices.”
The Prime Minister said FDI in retail, aviation and other sectors was necessary to bridge the widening fiscal deficit and contain the current account deficit at 2.9 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.
“This must be financed mainly through Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Institutional Investment flows so that reliance on external debt is limited.” FDI would come only if fiscal deficit was under control and the growth momentum regained, he argued.
However, the Opposition, stepping up its attack on the government, announced the nationwide agitation. Eight parties including the Left, and the National Democratic Alliance made separate announcements.
In a statement, the eight parties said it was time for people to come together and register a powerful protest to stop “measures which will further burden the people and ruin their livelihood.”
It was signed by Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav, Janata Dal (S) president H.D. Deve Gowda; CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, CPI general secretary S. Sudhakar Reddy, BJD chief Naveen Patnaik, TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu, AIFB general secretary Debabrata Biswas and RSP general secretary T.J. Chandrachoodan.
Call early polls: Advani
The tone and tenor of NDA working chairman L.K. Advani, who briefed the media after a meeting of the alliance leaders, was belligerent. He went to the extent of saying if the government did not feel compelled to reverse its decision despite all-round protests it would be wise for the UPA to call an early election and let the people decide.