Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him to bring down fuel prices, which have been on the rise for the past 12 days. Calling the hike in prices of petrol and diesel “nothing short of extortion”, she said the government is making profits out of people’s misery and suffering.

In the letter to PM Modi, conveying “every citizen’s anguish and deep distress regarding the spiralling fuel and gas prices”, she wrote, “On one hand, India is witnessing systematic erosion of jobs, wages and household income. The middle class and those at the margins of our society are struggling. These challenges have been compounded by runaway inflation and an unprecedented rise in price of almost all household items and essential commodities. Sadly, in these distressing times, the Government has chosen to profiteer off people’s misery & suffering.”

Terming the spike in fuel prices “historic and unsustainable”, she said that it is surprising that the prices have increased despite the fact that the prices of international crude oil are moderate.

“What baffles most citizens is that these prices have been increased despite moderate prices of International crude oil. To put it in context, the crude oil price is nearly half of what it was during the UPA Government’s tenure. Therefore, your Government’s act of raising prices (continuously for 12 days till February 20th) is little less than a brazen act of profiteering.”

Accusing the government of justifying “thoughtless and insensitive measures” directly at the cost of people, she said, “Your government has increased excise duty on diesel by 820% & on petrol by 258% over and collected upwards of ₹21 lakh crore in the last six and a half years.”

However, such “unaccounted-for windfall” has not yet been passed to the public for whose benefit it was ostensibly collected, she argued.

Sonia reiterated that it was cruel on the government’s part to refuse to reduce fuel prices even when global crude oil had crashed to $20/barrel last year. “The whole principle of deregulation and dynamic pricing is predicated on the principle that reductions in crude oil prices will proportionately benefit the end consumers. The fact that your Government fails to do so implies a deliberate and conscious decision to deny the common man his legitimate due,” she said.

She added that on top of this, the government has been unreasonably over-zealous in levying excessive excise duty on petrol and diesel. Quoting the duty as Rs 33 per litre of petrol and Rs 32 per litre of diesel, she argued that it is higher than the base price of the fuels and said, “This is nothing short of extortion to cover up economic mismanagement.”

The Congress interim president said, “As the principal party in opposition, I urge upon you to follow ‘Raj Dharma’ and reduce fuel prices by partially rolling back excise duty.”

Sonia said it is equally distressing that inspite of governing India for almost seven years now, PM Modi’s government continues to blame previous regimes for its own economic mismanagement. She also added that the domestic crude oil production fell to an 18-year low in the year 2020.

“Governments are elected to ease the burden of our people and at the very least, not work directly contrary to their interests,” she said, urging the PM to withdraw the hikes in prices and pass on the benefit to the middle and salaried class, farmers and common citizens.

“It is they who are battling an unprecedented economic slowdown, widespread unemployment, wage reductions and job losses, high prices and erosion of income,” she wrote, hoping that the government will focus on solutions instead of looking for excuses. “India deserves better,” she said.

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