Sonia stresses ‘compulsions’, Cong rallies behind reforms

FP

Taking their cue from party president Sonia Gandhi, the Congress top brass today fully endorsed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's renewed thrust on economic reforms, notwithstanding some qualms about unpopular decisions like hike in petrol prices and cap on supply of subsidised LPG cylinders.

Days after she supported the government's reform measures at a public rally here, Sonia today exhorted her party leaders to explain to the people the "compulsions" behind the "difficult decisions".

Addressing the party's day-long "samvad baithak" (dialogue session) which was attended by Congress Working Committee members and union ministers at Surajkund, Sonia said: "Due to the prevailing serious situation, our government had to take some decisions that have hurt the common man. The challenge before us is to clearly tell the people about our compulsions and explain the reasons for the difficult decisions."

That the ruling party has finally come around to accepting the government's views about rising fiscal deficit was evident. Senior leaders like Digvijaya Singh and Pawan Singh Ghatowar are reported to have raised the issue of petroleum subsidies and suggested differential diesel pricing mechanism for those driving SUVs and those driving tractors. They asked why a scooterist should feel he is paying more (for petrol) than what a SUV owner pays (for diesel).

In the backdrop of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, which saw the BJP focussing on the issue of LPG cylinders, many party leaders demanded that the cap should be increased to 12 subsidised cylinders per household per year. Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily said he would discuss the issue with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

At this point, said sources, Ahmed Patel, political secretary to the Congress president, interjected to say that Moily should be told to be mindful of the timing of any increase in prices. Digvijaya Singh was learnt to have suggested that people earning more than Rs 1 lakh per month should not be given any subsidy for LPG cylinders.

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