The nationwide strike on Monday called by 21 opposition parties in the country spearheaded by the Congress against the petrol and diesel prices that have been surging up on a daily basis, brought normal life to a standstill.
If it was a dawn to dusk hartal in Kerala, the bandh, seriously affected life in other parts of the country, contrary to the norm, including the north Indian states. The strike - which was held the very next day of BJP's two-day national executive to psychologically debilitate the Congress - however displayed the unity and strength of the Opposition. But beyond this political tug of war, it is needless to say that the nationwide strike and similar protests which confine the people to their homes for yet another day gain nothing; the outcome of such protests is zero.
It was while the nation was entering the strike the other day that the fuel prices shattered its daily record and reached an all time high today. While writing this piece, the petrol prices in Delhi stand at Rs 80.73 per litre and diesel price at Rs 72.83 per litre; in Mumbai, it is Rs 88.12 and Rs 77.32 for petrol and diesel respectively. Since the former government had handed over the right to determine the fuel prices to the companies, the government has no right of control over the price hike. However, the government has been colluding with the companies and both the parties have so far been squeezing out the common man's money directly and in the form of taxes.
There had been a level of caution in the matter of fleecing during the tenure of the UPA government either fearing public fury or as part of government's politeness. But when it came to the centralised authoritarian Fascist rule of the Sangh Parivar, there is no empathy at all in the case of fuel prices, as in the case of all other matters. . The government requires a hefty fund for the development of the basic infrastructure. The Narendra Modi government has decided that the first source to collect this money is from the fuel tax. The states in their turnare firm in their view that if the Centre will not relent, why they should, and are thus unwilling to slash state's tax rates. The noose is tightening around the neck of the common man who is stuck in between. It is besides this that further blows in the form of strikes and hartals are inflicted by the political parties that should step in to find a solution to the problems.
The demand by the Congress is to reduce petrol and diesel prices by Rs 15 and Rs 18 per litre respectively by bringing both under the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Their allegation is that the Modi government has collected Rs 11 lakh crore so far by way of fuel tax and that it was akin to robbing the common man's budget. However, the BJP government has been washing its hands off the matter saying that the cause of inflation is the oil countries cutting down production and that the matter was not in their control. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad explained that Modi government has been making efforts to reduce inflation and that it has succeeded in that matter. He also said that the government would stand with the people in curbing the fuel prices.
However, no one would take this statement seriously. When prices were registering steep increase in last May, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said that there would be a solution to the price rise within a week. But nothing happened. On the one hand, oil companies were given a free hand to increase prices, and on the other, in order not lose the benefit of higher revenue, no tax relief which could have been given to the people, was offered. This time the explanation put forward is that fuel and crude oil prices are rising in international market. But, even when their prices were low, the Central government was continuing with price hikes. We have the earlier experience of UPA-2 government, when international market prices were high, but still fuel prices in the country were not hiked. Even when crude price in the international market had touched a low of USD 40 per barrel, Modi government increased the excise duty nine times between 2014 and 2017. Only once, in October 2017, was this brought down by Rs 2 per litre.
The stance of the Centre is that because the government's expenditure is increasing, excise duty cannot be slashed. The justification offered is that huge funds are required for the government's spending on infra-structure development and welfare projects. But the development mentioned has been failing to reach the lower rungs, and hence BJP's inability to answer the criticism in this regard raised by the Opposition. Thus, when the government itself is unconvinced about the argument that it cannot rein in price rise, it is buying a week's time for a solution.
Therefore, in order to correct the Centre which washes its hands off without a solution, outdated means like strikes, which serve only to push the people to further misery, will not suffice: a fact the Opposition which stages protests and Congress which leads the agitation, may be seized of. In order to pacify the anger of the people, what the Opposition has to do is not hold people to ransom, but convert their frustration into votes and oust the anti-people government. As Opposition, they are duty bound to display the capacity and strength to do that and bring that to good effect.