Politicians across the Indian political spectrum are condemning President Bush's remark, linking high food prices in the West to a growing middle class in India. From New Delhi, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports Indians are pointing the finger back at the United States.

The governing coalition and opposition in India rarely agree on much, but they are united in condemning the American president for saying a growing demand for food grains by India's middle class is partly to blame for the surge in global food prices.

Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony calls President Bush's comment "a cruel joke" contending that U.S. policies, including advocating bio-fuels, are responsible for higher food prices.

M.A. Nagvi, the vice president of the largest opposition force, the Bharatiya Janata Party, says President Bush is shifting from his earlier role of global "bomb inspector" to world "bread inspector."

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, a key national Communist leader, says the American president "has gone out of his mind."

Mr. Bush made the remark Saturday, in response to a question following a speech he delivered on the economy and trade in the U.S. state of Missouri.

A notable critic of America's food policy on India, physicist-turned-environmental-activist Vandana Shiva says Mr. Bush had two reasons for making the comment.

"One is to fuel xenophobia and to say the problem is someone else's, to distract the American public. And, second, is to continue the myth of globalization, to make it look like globalization is bringing benefits to countries like India, when it's not," said Shiva.

Indian experts, citing data from here and from the United States, say American per capita food consumption is three to five times that of Indians.

Ecologist Shiva argues Indians, overall, are eating less, not more, despite a growing middle class here.

"Per capita consumption of food has dropped from 177 kilograms per capita per year to 152 in the last decade and a half. Instead of Mr. Bush citing that 350 million middle class, he should be citing the Indian children being denied. One million a year are dying for lack of food," added Shiva.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week also cited the rising affluence of Indians and Chinese for playing a role in pushing up food and oil prices.

Some economists say Indian and Chinese cost controls and subsidies for fuel and food shield their rising middle classes from the true impact of rising prices.

India imports about 80 percent of its fuel, while China has become the second-largest importer of oil.

India was self-sufficient in food for decades, but has begun importing wheat again, in recent years. China is faced with the traditional challenge of feeding 20 percent of the world's population on only seven percent of the planet's farmland.

The Confederation of Indian Industry, representing 7,000 business entities, blames the rising food prices on diversion of crops to bio-fuels, an increase in droughts and subsidies to growers which encourage them to leave land fallow, to maintain higher global prices. The group announced, Sunday, it is establishing a task force to investigate India's soaring food prices.