Opposition parties gang up to whip NDA over price rise

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Inflation, rail fare hike UPA legacy, don’t blame us: Jaitley

Opposition parties gang up to whip NDA over price rise
Fiery slogans, walkouts, multiple adjournments and a potential realignment of opposition parties attacking the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on price rise and rail fare hike, marked Parliament’s first day of the budget session on Monday.

The Lok Sabha failed to transact any business with the opposition pressing for an adjournment motion against the 41-day Narendra Modi government.

In the Rajya Sabha too, Congress was the glue that bonded most opposition parties when they attacked the government citing its inability to rein in inflation, seeking a rollback in rail fares hike and demanding measures to curb rise in prices of onions and potatoes.

After an impromptu short duration debate on inflation, finance minister Arun Jaitley put up a spirited defence of Modi government citing steps taken to curb inflation.

Barring the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and AIADMK, all other opposition parties came together in the Parliament, hinting at a potential realignment of political forces. Both BJD and AIADMK members reportedly served separate notices seeking a debate on price rise and rail fare hike.

Interestingly, archrivals Samajwadi Party and BSP led by Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh came together with the Congress against the ruling front.

Similarly, Left parties and Trinamool Congress members - that normally do not see eye-to-eye in West Bengal – stood together in the course of the opposition campaign. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), that had opposed Congress in Delhi, decided to gang up with them in seeking an adjournment motion against the Narendra Modi government.

Congress’s trusted ally, RJD, attacked the government by opposing across-the- board 14.2 per cent rail fare hike for all passengers and a 6.5 per cent freight hike ahead of the rail budget.

Ruling NDA backroom managers and parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu, were not too perturbed given that two powerful groups, the BJD and the AIADMK, had chosen not to ally with the other opposition parties on the floor of the house.

With a 331-strong treasury bench in a house of 548, even a combined opposition may not worry the NDA government, a ruling party minister said.

But this rainbow alliance — if it evolves —could pose a problem for the government in getting several key bills passed in the upper house.

The BJP and its allies have 64 members in the Rajya Sabha as against 85-strong Congress and its allies.

In a house with an effective strength of 245 members, a large chunk of 96 MPs that include members from TMC, Left parties, SP and BSP are expected to lean towards Congress-led UPA.

Meanwhile, Arun Jaitley threw the ball in the opposition court saying that the Congress government’s inaction and policy paralysis, had forced the Modi regime to take ‘difficult but prudent’ decisions which are not populist.

He also cited imposing stock limits, initiating anti-hoarding drives along with states as immediate steps taken to contain inflation of essential items, unlike the previous UPA dispensation during which onions had crossed Rs 100 per kilo .

On rail fares, Jaitley said the government was being attacked though it was yet to outline its financial roadmap in the rail budget to be presented on Tuesday and the general budget on Thursday. The Lok Sabha managed to take up just two questions as opposition members trooped into well raising slogans.

Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan rejected their demand for an adjournment motion but was willing to take up a debate on prices under rule 193 that does not entail voting.

Earlier, Congress deputy leader Amarinder Singh said people were starving and “food prices are rising at terrible levels...How can a common man survive? We don't want only a discussion but an answer from the government. We want voting in the house because it is an important issue”.

Repeated pleas by the speaker to allow questions to be taken up went unheeded as opposition members resorted to slogan shouting against hike in prices of food, petrol, diesel and LPG besides rail fares.

Slogans like “achha din ayega, mahangai badhayega (good days will come, prices will rise)” and “roll back rail fare hike” were heard in the house.

In the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley blamed the current situation on the previous government. He said it had inherited a “legacy” from UPA. “The government is committed to contain it (inflation) because we consider it a serious and sensitive matter. There is sufficient supply (of potato and onion) and therefore there is no reason for panic,” Jaitley said.

He added: “For last two years, prices of onion and potato have been rising. The then government used to wake up after prices had already risen...We started taking steps immediately when prices touched the Rs 25 per kg mark.”

But Jaitley was non-committal on Sitaram Yechury’s suggestion for banning futures trading in commodities.

Jaitley said UPA government had taken the decision to hike rail fares and freight rates on February 11 and the present government had only implemented it. “Railway minister D V Sadananda Gowda had a Hobson's choice as railways' financial health is extremely bad”, he said.

“Does he (railway minister) follow the weak-kneed policies of his predecessor or does he take this difficult decision and place facts before the country,’’ he queried.

Jaitley also pointed out that decision to raise rail fare and freight rates was taken with the approval of the then prime minister Manmohan Singh in February but was withdrawn within hours of implementation on May 16.

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