WASHINGTON, May 3: US President George W. Bush on Saturday blamed the ‘wealthy’ lifestyle of India’s huge middle class for the spiralling global food prices.

“There are 350 million people in India who are classified as middle class. That’s bigger than America. Their middle class is larger than our entire population,” observed Mr Bush. ‘‘And when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food. And so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.”

The remarks, made in a speech on economy and trade, earned him an immediate rebuke from India where a spokesman for the ruling Congress party said Mr Bush’s analysis was “completely erroneous” as India is not a food importer but a food exporter.

Mr Bush, however, is not the first US leader to blame India. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also expressed similar views. She said that improving incomes and prosperity in India and China were responsible for the rising food prices.

Other American officials also have indicated that people in these two countries were eating too much and a better quality food, which has forced world food prices to go up.

In India, a Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters that Mr Bush’s assessment was wrong.

“The facts speak otherwise. India is not a net food importer. It is a food exporter,” he said. “The assumption that local prices are increasing because of a changed India is completely erroneous.”

Mr Tewari instead blamed the developed world for the crisis. “Diversion of arable land in the developed world for ethanol production and changes in the climate pattern led to the crisis,” he said.

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