Protests over prices take heat off Congress

Protests over prices take heat off Congress

New Delhi: The opposition’s offensive in the Lok Sabha over the rising prices of essential commodities on Wednesday gave some respite to the ruling Congress party, which is struggling with the divisions in its Andhra Pradesh unit over the creation of a new Telangana state.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, after giving its nod for forming Telangana, has come under pressure from anti-Telangana legislators in the party and is keeping a low profile on the issue. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is leaving for Copenhagen on Thursday for climate negotiations, no clarification is expected till Saturday. A scheduled meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party on Thursday has also been cancelled. Congress leaders at the Centre, however, are indicating the government will not go back on its decision.

The House, which witnessed high drama after Congress legislator Jaganmohan Reddy, son of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy, openly sided with the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) in an anti-Telangana protest, was adjourned without any discussion before 1 pm.

But amid the din, the government managed to pass three Bills—to extend relief from sealing and demolition of unauthorised colonies in Delhi till December 2010; make all teachers eligible for gratuity; and rename the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme after Mahatma Gandhi—without any discussion.

As soon as the Lok Sabha met, the Bharatiya Janata Party, its allies, the Left parties, and three UPA supporters—the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal—raised slogans asking the government to step down if it could not curb rising prices.

The Left leaders, who took the initiative in the protests, admitted the uproar over price rise and the subsequent adjournment was a “blessing in disguise" for Congress.

“It is true that the Congress party was cornered over the Telangana issue and the pandemonium in the Lok Sabha helped them cover it up," said P. Karunakaran, deputy leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the Lok Sabha.

A senior BJP leader said his party was “forced" to join non-BJP opposition as it was a “people’s issue". The Left, along with BSP and SP, had staged a protest demonstration outside the House before the session began on Wednesday.

“It would have been a mistake if we had not joined them in the last minute," he said.

Some analysts read another meaning into the protests.

“The politicians are a class by themselves. They rescue each other," said Subrata Mukherjee, professor, department of politics, Delhi University. “Today’s protests appeared non-serious as they didn’t allow any discussion nor a statement from the government."

SP’s Akhilesh Yadav denied his party wanted to save Congress from further embarrassment over Telangana, and SP members raised the issue on rising prices as “our voice(s) also have to be heard sometimes".

In Andhra Pradesh, Telangana supporters reacted violently to the Praja Rajyam Party’s new stance. The PRP, led by actor Chiranjeevi, now backs a united Andhra. The protesters attacked theatres playing movies of Chiranjeevi’s nephew Allu Arjun and son Ram Charan.

In coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, protests continued for the sixth day.

C.R. Sukumar in Hyderabad contributed to this story.