The first half of the budget session commencing on Tuesday is a short one (January 31- February 9) but the opposition wants to use the brief time at its disposal to put the Narendra Modi government on the mat with an eye on the assembly polls being held in five states, including the politically-important Uttar Pradesh.
With major political players already on the campaign trail, the brief proceedings of the budget session are bound to reflect the mood in the field. Political parties, having a stake in these polls, will use the session to score brownie points over their rivals and also address their respective constituencies.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is at a distinct advantage after the Modi government decided to advance the presentation of the annual budget to February 1 as against February 28. The ruling alliance is expected to make some populist announcements aimed at wooing the farmers, rural poor and the middle classes.
Though the Election Commission has directed that the government should not announce any schemes for the poll-bound states, the finance minister is at liberty to make budgetary allocations for national schemes which will include the states where elections are being held. For instance, there is a buzz that the Modi government intends to raise the income tax limit with the specific aim at winning back the classes who are unhappy with the prime minister’s decision to annul high denomination currency notes.
Predictably, the opposition is upset with the government’s decision to present the budget on the eve of crucial assembly polls which, they believe, will give the BJP an unfair advantage in the upcoming assembly polls. Although the Supreme Court and the Election Commission have allowed the government to go ahead with the budget on February 1 as scheduled, this did not stop Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad from expressing his apprehensions over the advancement of the budget at an all-party meeting called by Parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar on Monday.
Having stalled the entire winter session of Parliament in protest against the decision on demonetisation, the opposition, especially the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), want that two days be set aside to discuss the implications of the prime minister’s move. Since Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has asked his party cadres to run a sustained campaign on the ill-effects of demonetisation, the party wants to keep this issue alive, especially so because of the upcoming assembly polls.
High stakes session
It is not just the Congress which is preparing to pillory the Modi government. The Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Left parties and the Trinamool Congress also have their share of grievances and are waiting to air them in Parliament.
The Trinamool Congress did not attend the meetings called by the Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and has also decided to boycott the first two days of the budget session. Although poor implementation of the demonetisation has been cited as the ostensible reason for this show of protest, the Trinamool Congress is on the warpath after its members of Parliament Sudip Bandhopadhyay and Kunal Ghosh were arrested. Condemning this move, a furious West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has accused the Modi government of indulging in political vendetta and using the Central Bureau of Investigation against its political opponents.
Like the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party , which are the BJP’s main opponents in the Uttar Pradesh polls, also plan to keep up the attack against the government. Drawing attention to the BJP’s election manifesto in which it has promised to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya at the Monday meeting, Azad underlined that this violated the recent Supreme Court direction that political parties should not seek votes in the name of religion and demanded a debate on the subject. The BJP’s political rivals have already denounced the party’s strategy to deviate from its development plank and play the communal card. If allowed, this debate will be a fiery one and could set the tone for the Uttar Pradesh elections.
While an angry Trinamool Congress is set to disrupt proceedings, the CPI(M) wants Parliament to function so that it can corner the government in the course of a discussion. “The debate on the President’s address deals with all aspects of functioning of the government. We would like to use this opportunity to pin down the government on a host of issues,” said the party general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
While all opposition parties want to maximise their gains in this brief session, it is to be seen how their demands will be accommodated in the short time at their disposal. The first half of the session is to run for nine days but members only have six working days to dispose of all the business, including the presentation of the budget and the debate on the President’s address. “I doubt if anything substantive will be achieved in this short period. This is a political instrument, meant to help the BJP in the coming assembly elections,” remarked a senior Congress leader.