While presenting the pre-election interim budget on Monday, Finance Minister P Chidambaram faced an unprecedented challenge of wrestling with government finances as well as his own cabinet colleagues from Seemandhra trying who tried their best to drown him out with their anti-Telangana slogans. Not to mention the loud protests from AIADMK, SP, Left and finally TMC that followed.
There were slogans, posters and disruptions in the well of the house as Chidambaram braved the verbal onslaught to not just to present UPA-II’s last financial exercise but his own eighth budget, only two less than Moraji Desai’s 10.
This was his first interim budget though and he seemed determined to not let go of his chance to read it out on the floor of the house. “(I am) not going,” he was heard telling the Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who’s also the leader of the outgoing 15th Lok Sabha, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.
Starting sharp at the 11.10 am, Chidambaram had the near impossible task of delivering a hour-long budget speech. Slogans were raised by Union ministers Chiranjeevi, D Purandeswari, K S Rao, K J Surya Prakash Reddy and other Congress members like Bapi Raju and G V Harsha Kumar.
Chidambaram’s assertion that there was “no policy paralysis” in the government and “economy has been doing better” than two years ago, seem to be nullified by the low political dividends of his government and party’s policy was yielding in full public view.
But there was not dearth of trying. With a young leader, Rahul Gandhi and a disgruntled electorate to take care, Chidambaram did what was expected of him, made rice, cars, two-wheelers, locally-manufactured mobile phones and education loans cheaper - to please the youth.
His was greeted with thumping of desks from the treasury benches when he said that the economy, despite the global meltdown and slowly of growth, has done better in the UPA tenure than during the previous stint. “I think I have been vindicated GDP growth in Q2 of 2013-14 has been placed at 4.8 per cent and the whole year has been estimated at 4.9 per cent. This means that growth in Q3 and Q4 of 2013-14 will be at least 5.2 per cent,” the FM said.
The highlight was what he called stabilizing of the economy. “The fiscal deficit is declining, the current account deficit has been contained, inflation has been moderated, the quarterly growth rate is on the rise, the exchange rate is stable, exports have increased and hundreds of projects have been unlocked,” Chidambaram added, surely to perk up the voters.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul present in the house feted him.
But the opposition was none too pleased. AIADMK members raised slogans from their seats during most part of Chidambaram’s speech. Thambidurai, AIADMK’s leader, could be seen asking the chair to restore order in the house before budget could be presented.
As for the Samajwadi Party and the Left MPs, they too protested against disorder in the House. They went back to their seats only after an assurance by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar that she would hear them in her chamber.
Towards the fag end of the Finance Minister’s speech, the burst of sloganeering from TMC members who rose considerably even as one of them, carrying a placard, shouted ‘Bengal hungry...shame shame’. No one really protested on the real issues, like the government failure to introduce GST regime, probably because the state governments are in any case apprehensive of GST cutting into their revenue base. One of the reasons for its delay.