New Delhi: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has dealt a double blow to the Congress party at the Centre. It has not only refused to facilitate the ouster of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh, but also announced a nationwide agitation against inflation on 27 February.
By doing so, the principal constituent of the Left Front—which has lent outside support to the ruling UPA coalition—has ensured that the spotlight stays on the government’s inability to curb the runaway rise in prices of essential commodities. After all, nothing is quite so embarrassing for the government than the woes of the aam aadmi (common man), whom it seeks to represents.
The agitation will be just a day before finance minister P. Chidambaram tables the General Budget for 2007-08 in Parliament. It will coincide with the counting of votes in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur, where the opposition made price rise an electoral plank.
“We can’t understand why the Centre has failed to curb futures trading in foodgrains and other essential commodities,” said Prakash Karat, general secretary of CPI(M).
“It is much more important to take concrete steps to address the issue than cause disruption to civic life,” said Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi. “When the Congress has made its point strongly regarding rising prices, I can only describe this (call for agitation) as duplication.”
Karat, however, said that his party had been advocating a number of concrete steps that could have been taken early on to avoid the adverse impact on the aam aadmi. Karat even cited the recent cut in fuel prices as symptomatic of the government’s characteristic delayed response, even as it finally came round to the CPI(M)’s point of view. “We will picket Central and state government offices on 27 February and court arrest,” warned Karat.
The threat of agitation sets the stage for the next round of confrontation between the government and the Left parties. The Left parties had earlier declared that they would confront the government over the rising prices in the forthcoming session of Parliament, which begins on 23 February.
Karat also raised the issue of creeping foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail. He said a “piecemeal” nod to FDI in retail, beginning benignly with the OK to single-brand retail, was simply “not acceptable”. More important, Karat said, the CPI(M) was equally opposed to the flourishing of domestic organized chains in retail as they would have the same debilitating effect on small shopkeepers as foreign players.
The Congress may be waiting for CPI(M) to soften its stance against President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh, but the CPI(M) has declared that economic issues should take precedence over politics.