Mamata holds out a threat; Congress shares allies' concern

Even as the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC), the second largest party in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), threatened to withdraw support at the Centre if the Union government did not reverse the hike in petrol prices, the Congress stepped into the breach to make soothing noises on Friday,

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, expressing his party's concern at the hike, said the allies' protests “would be heard with understanding, seriousness and compassion,” as he saw them as a sign of “sensitivity,” not “divisiveness.”

The Congress response came soon after the Trinamool's threat and a demand by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the National Conference (NC) to review the hike.

In Kolkata, Ms. Banerjee told journalists that since the Trinamool's “withdrawal of support may result in the fall of the government,” she would await the Prime Minister's return to “discuss [the matter] with him.”

While NC leader and New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah told journalists that he would raise the matter at the next Cabinet meeting, NCP general secretary Tariq Anwar asked the government to “devise some mechanism to check frequent hike in petrol prices.” The two leaders, however, quick to point out that the government did not touch the prices of diesel and cooking gas, items of mass consumption.

Sources in the Congress too agreed that there could be some review of the decision after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from the G-20 summit in Cannes, even saying some way other than reverting to the administered price mechanism could be found to help ease the burden on people. But sources in the government ruled out any rollback in the hike.

Sources in the Petroleum Ministry told The Hindu that since pricing had been deregulated, the government had no role. “If the States want, they can reduce the taxes on petrol to provide relief to the consumer; the Central government can do nothing,” the sources said.

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