Thousands in Indian city protest food inflation

The most important ally backing India's ruling coalition staged protests against high food prices on Monday.

Thousands in Indian city protest food inflation

The most important ally backing India's ruling coalition staged protests against high food prices on Monday, reflecting growing unease among government partners who fear voter anger in elections this year.

A wave of crises buffet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but none is as pressing as high food prices which has hit millions of poor people, and angered regional allies such as Trinamool Congress and the DMK party, which give the coalition a parliamentary majority.

On Monday, thousands of people marched in the eastern city of Kolkata, a stronghold of Trinamool, protesting against food inflation in India which has been in double digits for most of 2010 and is the highest among major Asian economies.

High prices could not only affect the ruling Congress party's prospects in state elections, but also that of its allies, potentially reshaping the balance of power within the governing coalition ahead of general elections in 2014.

"We will not accept skyrocketing prices," read a giant banner at a rally organised by Trinamool, which is hoping to dislodge West Bengal's long-running communist government in elections due by May, and sees high food prices as a potential threat to its chances.

The party is a key constituent of the governing coalition which has a majority of just 16 seats in the 545-member parliament. It holds 19 seats and a breakup would throw the coalition into a jeopardy.

"We are concerned and we demand that we should be consulted while taking steps like increasing petrol prices," Trinamool leader Sudip Bandopadhyay told Reuters.

"High prices is a burning issue and we cannot let the poor be hurt like this."

Governments around the world have been taking measures to tackle soaring grain prices and head off social unrest, with north African countries Libya, Algeria and Morocco cutting taxes on foods or regulating prices and stepping up supplies.

The DMK party also said it feared being punished by voters in local elections in southern Tamil Nadu state because of high prices of foodstuff.

"Definitely we are concerned, and whichever government is in power will be held responsible (during local elections). That is why we have expressed our concerns to the (federal) government," said DMK spokesman T.K.S Elangovan.

The protests come at a time Singh is considering reshuffling his cabinet, possibly as early as Wednesday. He is meeting the Indian president on Monday evening to discuss the matter, an official source said.

Singh, facing the toughest time of his second term in office amid accelerating food inflation and corruption scandals, needs to fill several vacancies, some which came about as a result of the departure of ministers over graft accusations.

Singh could just make cosmetic changes to fill vacancies or he could reshuffle some controversial ministers, such as Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh whose push for implementing green laws has triggered a row with industry.

The reshuffle could show the direction the government will take, either to back reformist ministers or bow to political expediency and industry pressures, in the run-up to important state elections this year and a general election due by 2014.


Reuters

Last Mod: 18 Ocak 2011, 11:26
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