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The axe falls
Vinod Anand | 29 May 2012

The axe has finally fallen on the common man. Crushed by the steep rise in the prices of all goods and services, the people will now have to bear the brunt of the cruelest blow of all- the hike in petrol prices. As was to be apprehended, the State-run oil firms came out with the biggest-ever hike of about Rs 7.50 per litre in petrol prices from Wednesday- Thursday midnight.

ANGRY PROTESTS from political parties, could be heard but they seemed to be merely ritualistic in nature. Had the protests been genuine, the political parties would have threatened to go on fast or indulge in 'Rail Roko' agitation to thwart the bid because they already knew that the steep hike was in the offing and that announcement to that effect would be made as soon as the Budget session of Parliament is over. That is precisely what has happened.

The Government was aware of the possibility of protests from some allies too. But the shrewd political operators of the UPA scotched that possibility by managing to rope in the support of Mulayam Singh Yadav who might as well have been tempted with the offer of an important Ministry at the Centre, should he decide to join the Manmohan Cabinet. The fact that he was seen seated next to Sonia Gandhi at the Prime Minister's dinner table was a clear indication of the changes in political equations that may soon follow.The Government says that since oil prices had been freed from administrative control, the companies were free to raise the prices.

But if that be so how is it that the Government had blocked their move even though Oil firms had been seeking permission since January to raise petrol prices? But the truth of the matter is that the oil ministry informally blocked the move, initially because of assembly elections ant later to prevent uproar in the crucial session of Parliament. In other words the Oil companies are not as free to raise petrol prices at will as it is projected. Oil industry officials say that the rupee?s sharp fall to a record low 56 against the dollar forced them to raise prices. But how can they overlook the fact that crude oil prices have fallen to about $107 per barrel from $126 in the past month.

The automobile industry may make up for its losses by shifting in a big way td the production of diesel powered vehicles. But what is the guarantee that diesel prices won't shoot up? Oil industry officials say that they hope to withstand political pressure to partially roll back the increase in petrol prices. "We are keeping our fingers crossed," one executive said. But whether the Government will be able to save their fingers from being burnt in the boiling electoral cauldron remains to be seen. This is the steepest hike and the biggest betrayal of the common man who has no way to balance his deficit family budget except to beg, borrow and steal-or, in extreme cases, commit suicide.

The Manmohan Government has forgotten Gandhiji who had told government representatives long, long ago: "Whenever you take a crucial step, first think of what-impact it will have on the poorest of the poor". But how could Government do that when instead of the common man, it is concerned with profits and losses of the oil companies.