New Delhi, May 24: Faced with howls of protest from every corner, the Congress has expressed hope that the government would find a way of easing some of the petrol price hike's burden on the common man.
However, unlike previous occasions, the party has neither voiced unhappiness nor demanded a partial rollback.
The oil companies today said petrol prices could be cut by Rs 1.50 to Rs 1.80 on June 1 during a regular review if global prices continue to fall.
A few Congress leaders may be making noises about a rollback but in private, they concede the necessity for the hike. They have been recalling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's comments, made in Sonia Gandhi's presence at the UPA II anniversary dinner this week, in favour of synergy between the government and the party on major economic issues. "Difficult decisions have to be taken on both spending and revenue mobilisation," Singh had added.
Some Congress leaders have chosen to give the impression that the party is deeply disturbed by the sharp hike and that the government did not consult Sonia beforehand, but the official reaction has been mild and measured.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari merely said the party was sensitive to the people's miseries, and then rationalised the hike by citing the volatile international market and the abnormal pressures on the rupee.
He, however, hoped that the Centre and the states would take measures to ease the burden. The Centre has the option of cutting duties and the states, their local taxes.
Although there is a buzz about a rollback of Rs 2 to Rs 3, no government source or party leader confirmed it. Congress-ruled states such as Kerala and Uttarakhand have cut taxes to bring the prices down by around Rs 2.
Many Congress leaders regretted that neither the allies nor the media seemed ready for a realistic debate.
Although the allies are angry, government sources dismissed reports that claimed the ministers from the allies had boycotted today's cabinet meeting. Ministers from the DMK, NCP and Trinamul indeed skipped the meeting, but the government sources said there had been no boycott or politics behind their absence.
While the NCP's Sharad Pawar is in the Netherlands, Praful Patel was in Mumbai. Trinamul's Mukul Roy had already informed the government he would be away till June 5 because of the upcoming municipal elections in Bengal, while the DMK's M.K. Alagiri was in Chennai.
Several Congress ministers too have been missing cabinet meetings. The cabinet committee on political affairs' meeting yesterday drew only four ministers. Even the empowered group of ministers that was to study under-recoveries by oil companies from the sales of petrol, diesel and LPG may not meet tomorrow since only two members, including its head Pranab Mukherjee, are now in Delhi.
Petroleum minister Jaipal Reddy cut short his visit to Turkmenistan by a day and returned to Delhi today. His ministry is in favour of raising the price of diesel by Rs 3 and that of LPG by Rs 50.
But none of the rest in the group ' Roy, Pawar, C.P. Joshi, Alagiri or special invitee Montek Singh Ahluwalia ' is in the capital. ( )