Budget Session in Danger

Unless the Government walks an extra step and shows magnanimity, nothing much could be accepted from the Session except for passage of Budget amidst din and pandemonium

Pictures: All party meeting ahead of the Budget Session; parliamentary Affairs Minister Anant Kumar with Mallikarjun Khadge

By Anil Anand

The Budget Session-2017 of Parliament has opened in the midst of heat and dust generated by the crucial elections to UP and Punjab Assemblies. It has also seen the end of a colonial-era tradition of presenting Union Budget on the last working day of February and instead done so on the first day of the month.

Will this erasing of the colonial-time tradition have a salutary effect on the functioning of the two Houses of Parliament? Or will it be a continuation of the Winter Session with an aggressive opposition ready to stall proceedings and simmering discontent within the ruling BJP coming out more strongly?

There is no doubt that none of the opposition parties despite their new found unity and a formidable SP-Congress alliance in UP, would block passage of Budget. This is not only a Constitutional requirement but also mandatory for the Government’s new fiscal year expenditure and incumbent upon the opposition to ensure its passage.

There are enough indications that the Budget Session would be as turmoil prone, may be more given the developments in West Bengal and a more strident stand by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, if not more than the last Session or two. The issues facing the regional satraps such as her apart, the questions raised by the opposition parties particularly the Congress on demonetization have more or less remained unanswered though situation has shown some improvement since the last Session.

The chances of a turmoil ridden Budget Session also seem high in the absence of any indications from the Government quarters to act and reach out to the warring opposition parties. This precisely was the reason behind both Monsoon and Winter Sessions going waste as no visible attempts at rapprochement were made by the powers that be. To the contrary even more aggressive Treasury Benches made the matter worst.

Apart from a customary all party meeting convened by the Government, there is no other indication of further steps to create a common working ground with the Opposition. Unless the Government walks an extra step and shows magnanimity, nothing much could be accepted from the Session except for passage of Budget amidst din and pandemonium.

It would be more imperative for the Government to act on this front or else the frayed tempers both of the ruling and opposition parties further worsened by the ongoing Assembly election could have worst effect on Parliament’s functioning. As it is the Budget Session would be half way through before the election process’ completion on March 15 so the dire need for the Government to act and ensure smooth functioning of Parliament. 

It would be difficult to presume that opposition parties like Congress and  Samajwadi Party, in a new found alliance in UP, and also Trinmool Congress would act normally unless some serious efforts are made by the ruling NDA to bring them on track. There were no indicators to this effect even as the Session opened up.

The reason for their (read opposition) continuous flamboyance would be the extension of seven-phase UP Assembly election up to mid-March during the course of which at least the opposition particularly the Congress-SP combine would like not to be seen as cooperating with the Government line on issues legislative and otherwise. Mamta Banerjee’s fight with the Centre is at a different level that involved CBI action against its MPs and party functionaries.

Apart from the challenge posed by the opposition, the BJP-led ruling NDA combine would have to guard against intra-alliance and intra-BJP discontent, traces of which were seen during and after the Winter Session last year. Spearheading the discontent was none other than BJP veteran LK Advani whose current claim to fame is membership of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led ‘Marg Darshak Mandal’ which is still to hold its inaugural meeting.

Advani alongside another party veteran Murli Manhor Joshi have virtually no role to play in UP elections as their names were conspicuously missing from the list of BJP’s main campaigners for UP polls. It would be interesting to see whether the two old warhorses watch it silently or make their presence felt during the Budget Session.

Chances are that Advani, who had created a stir by lambasting the Government and even the Speaker during Winter Session for non-functioning of Lok Sabha, would have the backing of some more disgruntled leaders of his party. This could possibly egg him on to question the Government if turmoil persisted in Parliament.

Some of the NDA allies particularly Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had also been expressing their displeasure both inside and outside Parliament. Since the SAD would be in the midst of elections, Shiv Sena in all likelihood would continue with its strident posture as elections to the all important Mumbai Municipal Corporation are round the corner. Both BJP and Shiv Sena are alliance partners in this civic body and attempting to break free of each other, or at least seem to be doing this as mark of the ongoing battle of supremacy before they talk of sewing an alliance again.

The Sena has been upping the ante for quite some time now in order to keep intact its status of major partner for Mumbai polls and as a counter to Modi factor. This brinkmanship of the Sena was seen in the Winter Session and possibly would be on display in the Budget Session as well.

Attempts were made by Maharashtra chief minister Devindra Fardnavis to hold parleys with Shiv Sena recently. But tangible results would only be achieved if BJP’s central leadership including Modi and party chief Amit Shah engaged with the Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. There are no indications to this effect as the Budget Session starts.