The burning issue of spiralling prices of essential commodities, particularly pulses, came up for discussion in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, with Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi rubbing it in by calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi 'Arhar Modi'.
The government denied the opposition charges on the price rise, maintaining it was only a seasonal and common phenomenon before monsoon. It asserted that inflation has been brought down substantially.
Replying to Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi's criticism, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defended the government performance at a "difficult stage" and recalled that the NDA government had inherited double-digit inflation.
"We have been able to keep things under control despite two years of bad monsoon, which resulted in higher food inflation," Jaitley said.
He said that India's wholesale price index (WPI) was in the negative for 18 months in succession till recently, which goes to the credit of the NDA government.
This is in contrast to high prices that ruled during the last two years of the previous United Progressive Alliance government till May 2014, Jaitley said in the Lok Sabha while replying to a debate on rising prices.
The minister said during the last two years of the United Progressive Alliance government, food inflation was moving over 11-12 per cent, while the wholesale price inflation ranged over 6-7 per cent.
"High prices of dal/pulses is a concern for the entire nation. The government has taken steps to address this mismatch in production and demand. The government is taking steps to contain inflation as CPI (consumer price index) in 2012-13 was in double digits and around 9.5 in 2013-14," Jaitley said.
He said he was hopeful that the production of pulses will rise to 20 million tonnes this fiscal.
Earlier, taking a dig at Modi, the Congress leader called him 'Arhar Modi, Arhar Modi' and asked him to announce a date by which the prices will come down.
He was playing on the battle cry of 'Har Har Modi' used by the Bharatiya Janata party leader's supporters in the run-up to 2014 general elections. The slogan 'Arhar Modi' first became popular during the Bihar assembly elections last year.
In his brief speech in the Lok Sabha, Gandhi reminded the Prime Minister of his promises during campaigning for the 2014 general elections and said in the last two years Modi has made "hollow promises" to the people.
Gandhi repeatedly referred to the 'Har Har Modi' slogan and said now the people are reaping its harvest by saying 'Arhar Modi' -- a reference to growing prices of pulses, including arhar dal.
The coinage #ArharModi has been trending quite heavily on the social media since Gandhi's speech in the Lok Sabha.
Reminding Modi of his election speech in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 -- when Modi said he wanted to be a 'chowkidar' (guard) for the country and not the Prime Minister -- Gandhi said the task of safe-guarding the interests of the poor should now be "left to the Congress".
The Congress Vice-President also referred to Modi's speech at an election rally in Himachal Pradesh in February 2014, wherein he had said that "Maa, bachche raat raat rote hain, aasoon pee ke sote hain (mothers and children cry the whole night and sleep after swallowing their tears)".
"What a dialogue," Gandhi exclaimed sarcastically. Modi was not present in the house.
"I want to remind the Prime Minister of the promises he made that when the BJP government comes to power, it will bring down the prices," the Congress leader said.
"Modi ji, jitne khokhle vaade karne hai kariye... 'Stand-Up India', 'Make in India'. Par is house ko ek tareekh de dijiye jab market mein daam kam ho jayenge (Modi ji, make as many empty promises as you want... but please announce a date in this house when the prices will come down)," Gandhi said.
He alleged that the National Democratic Alliance's flagship programmes like 'Make in India' and 'Stand-Up India' had failed as they could not generate jobs for the youth.
Gandhi claimed that compared to 2014, prices of certain essential items have gone up between 100 and 300 per cent.
"Now you are the Prime Minister... you have become a big man. Why should you be a chowkidar too? Leave that duty to us, the Congress party," Gandhi said amid strong protests from the BJP members.
Reeling out figures, the Congress leader said urad and tur pulses, priced around Rs 70 a kg in February 2014, have now gone up to Rs 160 and Rs 180 a kg respectively this month.
He said there was a small difference between the minimum support price of Rs 45 a kg given to the tur/arhar dal growers and its market price of Rs 75. Now, the MSP has risen to Rs 50, but the price of the pulses has gone up to Rs 180 a kg, Gandhi said.
"So there is a gap of Rs 130 under the NDA government. Where is this Rs 100 going?" he wanted to know.
Claiming the government had waived off Rs 52,000 crore dues of the big business houses, Gandhi said such moves did not benefit the cause of the poor people, farmers and housewives.
The BJP fielded Hukumdev Narayan Yadav immediately after Gandhi's speech and the lawmaker from Bihar denied the Congress leader's allegation that the Modi government was responsible for price rise.
"Contrary to Rahul Gandhi's allegations, the Modi government has catered most for the welfare of the poor people. Opening bank accounts under the Jan Dhan scheme and cheap cooking gas to the poor only shows the government's commitment towards them," Yadav said.
Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy also slammed the government for skyrocketing prices.
Raising the matter, Communist Party of India (Marxist) member P. Radhakrishnan suggested the government has to end different types of cess to control inflation.
"How many cess are there in India now? There is cess on education, road, Swachh Bharat and Krishi Kalyan. This is also one of the most important reasons for price rise."
"The soaring prices have caused great unrest and frustration among the people. People belonging to the poor and middle class are hit the hardest. Moreover, soaring prices have become a big threat and an open challenge to the government," AIADMK member P. Kumar said.