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Rediff.com  » Business » Cong tells govt to pull up socks on economic policy

Cong tells govt to pull up socks on economic policy

June 05, 2012 10:59 IST
ParliamentA self-critical Congress party raised a range of thorny issues from the recent petrol price hike to coalition compulsions at an extended Congress Working Committee meeting on Tuesday.

The party asked the government to get its act together on economic policy.

CWC members and party leaders urged the government to revisit some policies before the Assembly and general elections of 2014. Congress President Sonia Gandhi criticised members for factionalism, advising them to focus on revitalising the party.

It was clear that price rise was a major source of political grievance.

Finance Minister and senior leader Pranab Mukherjee, addressing the media later, admitted as much.

"Nobody was happy with the petrol price hike," he told reporters.

The CWC got little reassurance from Mukherjee."Things are difficult.

"The monsoon can be a factor.

FDI, the depreciation of the rupee and the euro zone meltdown have all contributed to the current situation," he said at the meeting.

Leaders present at the meeting said every single speaker referred to two issues that had put the Congress on the defensive: corruption and price rise.

Later, briefing the media, the Finance Minister said he had explained the pricing policy post-deregulation and urged chief ministers to consider cutting revenues by a 25 per reduction of taxes levied on petrol.

There was no talk of a hike in the price of kerosene, diesel or domestic LPG.

Mukherjee said the economy hadn't lost its sheen and dismissed the possibility that the economic situation was anywhere near as dire as in 1991.

"Attempts have been made to link the current situation with that in 1991.

"I think this comparison is not correct. There is no reason to believe that we are going back to the situation of 1991 because our fundamentals are very strong," he said.

"Our foreign exchange reserves are very high in comparison to 1991," he stressed.

Earlier, speaking at the CWC meeting, the Prime Minister admitted the economy was facing difficult times but exuded confidence the "testing" period would be overcome.

Despite the international slowdown, India's growth was about seven per cent in 2011-12, which was "one of the highest in the world", he said. "These are difficult times for our country and for our economy, caused to a very large extent by circumstances over which we have little or no control," Singh said.

On her part, Congress President Sonia Gandhi backed Singh and the government and attacked the Opposition and civil society for levelling "baseless" allegations against the Prime Minister, saying it was part of a conspiracy, and urged partymen to fight back.

A special invitee who attended the meet said, "There was a general feeling that the UPA needs greater clarity in its approach to the petrol pricing policy.

"The impression that has now gone out is that it was the opposition National Democratic Alliance that forced the government, under duress, to roll back prices. This can't continue.

"Even our allies joined the Opposition in attacking the government."

With the government routinely stalling crucial policy decisions on coalition compulsions, the state party committee chiefs of West Bengal and Maharashtra pointed out the problems they were facing in working with the allies, especially the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the NCP in Maharashtra.

Maharashtra Congress unit chief Manikrao Thakre said, "Our hands are tied. The NCP is sabotaging us all the time. We can't hit back because we know we have to shore up a government in Delhi that the NCP is helping keep in office."

Pradip Bhattacharya of the West Bengal Congress lambasted the Trinamool Congress state unit for constantly demanding central financial assistance but showing a poor record at utilising central scheme funds.

Gandhi was authorised to decide on candidates for the coming presidential and vice-presidential elections.

Interestingly, the resolution authorising her was moved by Mukherjee, who is being considered the front runner for the President's post.

Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda made the radical suggestion of asking the government (and party) to consider a Kamraj Plan -- that is, get all ministers to resign and put together a new team. He offered his own resignation to set an example. No one took him up on that.

Kavita Chowdhury in New Delhi
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