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Milk Prices Climb, Congress-Pawar Distance Grows

PTI 22 Jan 2010, 21:07:29 PM IST

As promised by Sharad Pawar, milk prices have gone up. Two days ago, Pawar, the Agricultural Minister had warned, ''There is a serious shortage of milk, and there is pressure to increase prices."

On Friday, Maharashtra's dairies announced milk will cost two rupees more per litre.

Pawar is now under fire for food prices, not just from the Opposition, but even from his partner in both Maharashtra and the Centre, the Congress.

"You make a distinction between attacking somebody and expressing concern. The Congress does not attack its ally. But having said that, we are expressing concern shared by millions of people, and since the Agriculture Minister is also in-charge of food distribution, it comes under his remit,'' said the Congress spokesperson, Manish Tiwari.

The Opposition says the good-cop-bad-cop approach isn't fooling anyone. "Mr Pawar, are you a minister of the middlemen or the people? Why are milk prices rising in Mumbai? Isn't the price a responsibility of the government? Why is the Congress firing from Pawar's shoulder?" asked Shankar Prasad, BJP Spokesperson.

Privately, other members of Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) agree that the Congress cannot distance itself from the issue. They point out that any important decision is discussed, debated and approved by the Union Cabinet. So, the Union Cabinet should collectively take responsibility for India's spiraling prices.

But Congress leaders feel Pawar has shown a distinct lack of tact in handling India's concerns. When he was asked when food prices would start easing, he snapped he was not an astrologer. Yet, when it came to milk, he predicted a rise, one that his home state's dairy farms were quick to enforce. It's just the wrong sort of signal to send out, say Congress sources.