Opposition heat on Chidambaram over ice cream remark (Lead)

July 11th, 2012 - 8:30 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram New Delhi, July 11 (IANS) Under fire for remarks allegedly mocking the urban middle class on rising prices, Home Minister P. Chidambaram Wednesday said he had made a “matter-of-fact” statement that had been distorted by the media and had not taken a dig at the common man.

But his opponents, including the ruling ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), refused to buy the Chidambaram clarification, saying the remarks by the senior minister were uncalled for.

In a statement, Chidambaram said he was “shocked and disgusted by the deliberate distortion of the relevant question and answer at the media briefing in Bangalore on Tuesday”.

The statement quoted the minister as saying in response to a question on rising price burden on the common man: “We are prepared to pay 15 rupees for a bottle of water but we will not bear one rupee increase in the price of a kilo of wheat or a kilo of rice.”

“We are prepared to pay rupees 20 for an ice cream cone, but won’t pay one rupee more for a kilo of wheat or rice.”

“The home minister made a matter-of-fact statement. He did not ‘mock’ or ‘chide’ anyone. If the interview is viewed, it will be seen that he spoke in a matter-of-fact manner,” the statement said.

Clarifying further, the home minister said that in his Bangalore briefing he had referred to the price of crude oil and how the government was constrained to first raise petrol prices and then how the prices were reduced twice to benefit the middle class.

Admitting that food inflation was high, the minister said that higher procurement prices would benefit millions of farmers though there would be slight increase in food prices.

“The minister used the word ‘we’. He did not use the words ‘why do they make so much noise about price rise’. He did not say ‘There needn’t be any complaint for price rise when things are on the side of poor farmers’,” the statement said, adding that the media had distorted his statement.

Chidambaram’s comment created a storm, with some saying that he was mocking the urban middle class. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused him of not feeling the pain of the common man.

“The whole country has seen and heard what he (Chidambaram) said…. This is an ugly joke…It is a heartless and insensitive government,” BJP spokesperson and general secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

“Chidambaram should tell the country, what is the cost of a ‘thali’ (platter) for the common man, and see how costly it is. This government is playing with the sentiment of the common man.”

The NCP also took a dig at Chidambaram with its spokesperson D.P. Tripathi saying that the sarcasm was unexpected from a “cultured and educated man like Chidambaram”.

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