It would be charitable to accept the explanation of the Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) that it was due to a technical glitch that petrol prices on Wednesday were initially projected at 60 paise lower per litre (in the Capital), and then “corrected” when the error was noticed. However, it was decidedly uncharitable, indeed an insult to the public, for them to revise the price at one paisa cheaper. The least that sensitive officials could have done was to keep prices pegged at Tuesday’s level.

Even if the political leadership is indifferent to public opinion knowing it has a commanding position in the Lok Sabha ~ are the OMCs entitled to follow suit? Sure they operate in a monopolistic environment and the people have little alternative, yet it reeks of arrogance when they announce a reduction of a mere paisa: as if they were doing people a favour. Nor have they fulfilled a promise made by a “cornered” officer on Wednesday who spoke of a softening of international  prices, which would soon be reflected in the domestic prices ~ the trend of rising prices continued unabated on Thursday. So was a mere sop being offered? The public sector companies must desist from playing cheap politics ~ politicians already do enough of that.

For a government that creates the impression that “image-projection” equates with efficient management, the handling of the situation created by rising petroleum prices has been a PR disaster. There is no need to repeat the charges from Opposition leaders on Wednesday, and earlier, the scene/comments at filling stations across the country testify to the denting of the achhe din story. A massive exercise in self-projection is underway as the NDA celebrates the fourth anniversary of coming to power: every minister is exploiting All India Radio, and a series of press conferences are being conducted to fill in blanks left uncovered in the huge advertisements in the newspaper. Yet there is a shocking silence on the petroleum front. As shocking as “suspending” the daily price revisions in the run-up to the elections in Karnataka. The whopping increase since those polls concluded confirms how the public was taken for a ride.

Petroleum price fixation is complicated, and this comment is not an attempt to analyse or rectify that situation. Yet surely the battery of ministerial and party spokespersons could have made a bid to reassure the people that the government was seized of the crisis and attempting to provide a little relief. To be “seen as doing something” can often be as important as what actually gets done. Ministers should hang their heads in shame over the statements they made when prices rose during the UPA regime. Their charge of “policy paralysis” has returned, not just to haunt them as prices soar, but to amplify a craven silence over the last fortnight or so.