Modi’s ‘fuel shock’ to Opposition-led states

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(MS Shanker)

The decision to slash spiraling petrol and diesel prices undoubtedly is likely to benefit the states which are going to polls later this year.  Interestingly, the two states where elections are due this December are led by the BJP and they are Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.  For obvious reasons, the BJP held these state governments, which too can afford to slash their excise duty on fuel to provide further relief to their electorate.

Riding high on capturing four of the five states where elections were held in May, the BJP seems eyeing to end its winning spree on most satisfactory note this year.

But, the Opposition, especially the TMC headed Mamata Banerjee, who returned to power last year, calls the Centre’s decision as a ‘drama’ to hoodwink the electorate ahead of polls.  Well, she can afford to say that, but is onus on how much ‘relief’ she would like to give to her people in West Bengal by reducing the state’s excise tax by slashing some per cent as done by the Centre?

The impact of fuel price slash is certainly likely to pose a real challenge to already cash-strapped states like Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.  This is in the wake of the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharama, appealing to the state to take similar initiative, after announcing this major initiative.

Thus far, the Centre has put Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekar Rao, on the back-foot.  That too when he was determined to take on the BJP and Prime Minister Modi by horns by uniting Opposition parties, in a bid to form a formidable alliance, well before the 2024 general elections.  He is already on ‘Bharat trot’ and already met the AAP chief Arvind Keriwal as well as the Samajwadi Party headed by Akhilesh Yadav in Delhi.  He had announced his plans to go to West Bengal to meet Didi and also Maharashtra, where he is scheduled to meet all three alliance group partners led government – Shiv Sena (Udhav Thackeray), Sharad Pawar (NCP) and the Congress leaders. He is also likely to travel to other southern states and more northern, in his ‘mission uproot saffron from its roots’ campaign.  How far will he succeed, only time can tell?

But, one wonders how he and his party are going to ‘please’ people ahead of next year assembly polls.  Telangana is said to be the highest excise duty collector among the states by taxing a whopping 35 per cent.  His jubilation over the Supreme Court’s last week verdict that the GST Commissions recommendations are not mandatory on the state as they were only ‘suggestions’ in nature, the Centre’s decision to slash excise duty on petrol prices has come as a shocker to upset his apple cart.

Telangana is already being tightened from external borrowings by the RBI as it could not convince why it wanted to.  This lone restriction itself had put the state government on the mat as it did not have enough funds to implement several ongoing welfare schemes.  In fact, even paying salaries of government employees too had become a difficult task as days pass.  The private carriers like lorry and auto-rickshaw owners are already on warpath, demanding to include petrol and diesel under the GST gambit.

In that backdrop, KCR’s TRS government is in a precarious condition with funds drying fast and thick.

With the BJP and its allies being confident of bagging the two other states which goes to poll this year, and also put up better show in the upcoming state polls next year (2023), ahead of general elections to consolidate its position, much against the divided Opposition’s desperate attempt to cobble together an alliance.  As many as nine states – Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Karnataka, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana – are set to go for a poll next year that is in 2023.

BJP is either in the coalition or is heading government in four of these nine states.  However, the party is confident to return back to power in Rajasthan and look for an outside chance to win in Telangana.  That being the case, the BJP will leave no stone unturned to go all out to enhance its footprint in as many states as possible, especially in those nine states which will go to polls next year, by coming up with ‘excise duty on fuel cut’ kind announcements to lure the electorate.  Many feel massive price cut on fuel is bound to control essential commodities’ prices and put a temporary cap on inflation.

In that backdrop, one wonders, what’s up the Opposition’s sleeves to counter surging saffron’s expansion into more states to consolidate its position further before 2024 general elections.  And the mute question on everyone’s lips; can the cash-strapped Opposition withstand the onslaught of the cash-rich BJP?