New Delhi, Aug 20 (IANS) Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma Monday stoked a controversy with his comment that he was "happy" with price rise as it was beneficial for farmers. The opposition pounced on his remark, accusing the government of being insensitive to farmers' plight and a part of the "mehengai mafia" (price rise mafia).
The minister made the remark while talking to reporters on the sidelines of a function Sunday in Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh. Asked to comment on price-rise, Verma said the government was taking steps to tackle it, but he was happy with the rising prices of food items as it was beneficial to farmers.
"With the increasing levels of price, the farmers are benefitting. Dal, atta and vegetables have all become expensive. I am happy with this mehengai. The more the prices rise the better it is for farmers," he said.
His remark immediately attracted criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U).
BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain said in New Delhi that though the government said it stood for the common man, the minister's remark showed it had actually moved far away from the people.
His party colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was more critical, saying the government was the "Mogambo" or villain of price-rise. He was referring to a popular portrayal of a villainous character from a Hindi film.
"The government is the mehengai ka Mogambo...The government has become a member of this mehengai mafia and that is why when the common man mentions price-rise, they are happy," Naqvi said.
In Ahmedabad, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said that inflation had affected everyone in India, including farmers.
He said the input costs of farming, like prices of fertilizer, pesticide and diesel, had gone up. "In the last few years there have been many suicides by farmers due to debt, rising input costs, poor produce...the person who made the statement is obviously not aware of these facts," Jaitley said.
Congress leader and Law and Justice Minister Salman Khurshid was at pains trying to explain his colleague's apparent gaffe.
"I think it is a matter to understand that if the farmer is getting more money for his produce, then the prices will also rise in the market," he said.
He said the Planning Commission and the prime minister were working to get prices down and "strike a balance" and the government had "put a control on interest rates". "If seen in the larger context, then you will understand the remarks made in the context of the rising prices," he said.
JD-U leader and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) convenor Sharad Yadav said the prices of fertilizer, pesticide and diesel had gone up three times. "The farmer also buys clothes, utensils and commodities like others, and participates in social function, like marriages."
The controversy erupted on a day the BJP was holding a protest rally at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi against the government's "anti-farmer policies" and slammed the government on rising prices of fertilizer and diesel.
This is not the first time Verma has caused controversy with his remarks.
In February, he had said that by the 2014 elections Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be "old" to work.
"He (the PM) is already 80 years old. In 2014, when the next Lok Sabha elections are to take place, he will be 82. There is a limit to keep on working," he had said in response to a question about when Rahul Gandhi would become the prime minister.