PRICES are stinging to put it mildly. It is not just onions that are bringing tears to the eye but tomato, cauliflower, cabbage, brinjal, and for that matter all the vegetables. Retail prices of vegetables have gone up by 25 to 60 per cent compared to prices around the same time last year. The government, which is supposed to monitor crop output, supply to markets and ensure that they are available to the people, is caught virtually sleeping. It took the onion, which sold at Rs 85 per kg to initiate some response from the government. In spite of the inaction, the minister responsible for food has the audacity to state that it would take more than three weeks for the prices to reduce and more than four months for the prices to reach the level they were a week ago. It seems the government is more intent on preparing the aam aadmi to accept the higher price bands for these vegetables than ensuring that they are available at cheap prices. The actions of the government, it appears, are intended to accrue benefit to the hoarders than the common people.
The government issued statement that it is banning export of onions with immediate affect and also reducing the import tariffs. These, of course, are needed. But the other actions of the government which have contributed to the price rise also need to be addressed. It has increased the prices of fuel eight times in the recent past. It had deregulated the price of petrol and publicly expressed its intention to increase the price of diesel too. A secretary in the food and supplies department of the government explaining the reasons for the price rise has stated, “There are costs involved in transportation. Diesel, besides handling and labour charges has become dearer. No wonder, prices are higher this year”. Thus it is not the lack of knowledge that is influencing the decisions of the government. The government hence is aware of the problems but is unconcerned for the common people or to use the term dear to its heart, the aam aadmi.
Another important step that the government is unwilling to undertake is banning the futures trade in essential items. The UN official in charge of the Food and Agricultural Organisation himself had stated that it is not lack of availability that is leading to higher food prices. He explicitly stated that it is the speculative trading involving food items that is responsible for the higher prices. Our economist prime minister who prides himself as a professor who lectures the heads of the states on 'how to tackle recession', is unwilling to accept this simple fact. He is 'unwilling' because, it contradicts his fundamental beliefs in neo-liberal ideology. Otherwise, how else can one explain his concern for the annoyance of industrial houses on phone tapping that had unveiled many an ugly act of the corporates and lack of it in dealing with the aam aadmi issues.
We should remember that it is not the prime minister alone who is responsible for this neo-liberal inclination of the government. The Congress as a party heading the ruling coalition is totally responsible. There are attempts at times from a section of the party and also the always willing media to portray the Congress president and the 'prince in waiting' general secretary, as more concerned about the aam aadmi. Of course, their speeches are always peppered with ample references to the aam aadmi and their problems. But we should always remember that these are the very two persons who always jump before anyone else in defence of the prime minister and his policies. Moreover, the resolutions adopted in the recently concluded AICC plenary session did not have a single expression of worry over the rising prices, although they have ample references in praise of the government and for further opening up of our market to foreign players and further deregulation. Thus, it is the UPA that is solely and entirely responsible for the price rise.
While the people are reeling under the affects of the rising prices of food items, the government it is learnt is 'keen' to increase the prices of diesel and cooking gas. It seems the uproar against the soaring prices of onions has compelled the government to postpone this decision. Otherwise cooking gas would have become dearer by Rs 100 and diesel by Rs 5. The government has made its intentions clear – it is not at all bothered with the problems of the common people and is more concerned for the interests of the corporates and the rich and mighty. Now it is upon us to make our intentions clear – whether we want this government to continue with these policies are force it to roll back these anti-people policies. The only way for the people to make their intentions known is by coming out onto the streets in protest.