Millennium Post

Seeds of peace dissipate

Can you imagine a leader of the RSS affiliated organisation criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially in the presence of a BJP Chief Minister? Can you also imagine a scenario wherein the state minister openly questions the rationality of a decision taken by his cabinet?

The answers to both these questions are in the affirmative. These two unprecedented occurrences took place in Madhya Pradesh, sending shock waves in BJP and RSS circles.

A dharna was organised by the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh in Bhopal on 16 December. This organisation is directly affiliated with the RSS. The dharna was organised to draw the government’s attention to the pressing problems of farmers. Addressing participants of the massive dharna, Prabhakar Kelkar, National General Secretary of the Sangh said, “More than six months are over since Modi became Prime Minister. During these six months Modi has not uttered a single word about farmers’ problems.
Narendra Modi is silent as if a snake has bitten him. But we know how to draw out the snake poison. If this attitude of indifference to farmers continues, we will stage a massive protest in New Delhi,” he said. Kelkar spoke in an angry tone in the presence of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Kelkar, in his speech, recalled that many promises were made to farmers in the BJP manifesto, issued before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, not a single one has been fulfilled.

Instead fulfilling the promises made in the manifesto, the Modi-led government has banned bonus payments that were earlier made to the state government. He asked the Chief Minister to implement the assurances given in the manifesto. The Chief Minister on his part promised that despite the central government’s decision to discontinue bonuses, the state government will offer the same from its coffers.  

In a surprise dharna, participants went to the state Congress office and sought its help in resolving the problems of farmers. Congress leaders assured that the party was with them. Besides stoppage of bonuses, farmers in the state are facing several problems that includes a shortage of fertilizer, particularly urea. It is alleged that urea is being sold in black. At many places angry farmers have forcibly taken away urea from the trucks transporting the same. These incidents of loot are creating law and order problems at many places in the state. The Shivraj Singh Chauhan-led cabinet on Tuesday raised value added tax (VAT) on petrol and diesel by 4 per cent, offsetting the Rs 2 per litre cut in prices by oil companies on Monday night.

The cabinet approved this decision despite stiff opposition by several ministers. The first to raise opposition was the senior most minister Babulal Gaur. He was supported by Bhupenra Singh and Gauri Shankar Shejwar. Babulal Gaur made his opposition public and spoke to the media conveying his stand against the move. The dissenting ministers were of the view that the benefit of fuel price cut should be passed on to the public, while some referred to its implications on the upcoming elections in Indore and Bhopal corporations and  Panchayat elections.

But what came as a total shock to the opposition and social organisations is the decision of the government to reduce VAT on cigarettes from 27% to 13%, a move which contradicted the central government’s plans to curb sale of tobacco products in the country. The opposition Congress described the move to make cigarettes cheaper “anti-people”, while the MP Voluntary Health Association said the decision should have been the “reverse”. “VAT on fuel should have been decreased and increased on cigarettes, which would have benefitted society both ways,” said Mukesh Sinha, secretary of the association.

Neither State Finance Minister Jayant Malaiya nor any officer of the department agreed to speak on the cabinet’s decision to reduce VAT on cigarettes. The two moves were the chief minister’s first major decision after completing a year into his third term in office.

Following the hike, VAT on petrol in Madhya Pradesh would go up to 31% and 27% for diesel, but
retail prices would remain “more or less the same” as before the price cut, sources said. On Monday, oil companies had slashed petrol price by Rs 2.14 and diesel by Rs 2.21 in Bhopal. After the 4% increase in VAT, petrol in Indore and Bhopal would be dearer by about Rs 2.05 per litre and diesel by Rs 1.80 per litre. These reductions mark a change of .09 paise in petrol and .41 paise in diesel.

Petroleum dealers, however, said that final prices could be slightly different after the government notification is issued. Sources said the government had estimated a loss of more than Rs 550 crores due to slash in fuel prices. “The government now expects to add around Rs 800 crores to its kitty through the increase on VAT in petrol and diesel,” a source said.IPA



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