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Budgeting the House Storm

As crucial session begins, Pranab Mukherjee raps MPs, urges them to respect ‘supreme will’ of people and allow Parliament to function smoothly.

Published: 24th February 2016 05:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th February 2016 05:25 AM   |  A+A-

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NEW DELHI: Just before the Budget session began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged the Opposition to make use of Parliament in a constructive debate.

Just as the crucial session began, the President, in his customary address to the joint session of Parliament, almost chided the MPs, asked them to respect the “supreme will” of the people and not disrupt and obstruct.

But did the message of sink in? No sooner did President Pranab Mukherjee finish his 20-page speech with urgings “to all Members of Parliament to discharge their solemn responsibilities in a spirit of cooperation and mutual accommodation”, the Congress MPs rushed out with their criticism of his address.

Never before had so many Congress MPs, from Ashwani Kumar to Rajiv Shukla, shown such eagerness to dish out their disapproval of President Mukherjee’s speech, an erstwhile leader of their own party and “Pranab-da” to everyone of them.

If Kumar found the presidential speech “completely directionless” and “most uninspiring”; Shukla called it a “big disappointment” and filled “with clichés”, full of “slogans like sabka saath, sabka vikas”.

The President is bound by the Constitution to present his government’s vision and agenda as the Budget session of Parliament commences. But the Congress felt that he failed to touch upon the current crisis ­— the “atmosphere of tension” in the country and the “tension in the neighbourhood”.

Well, the government has agreed to debate the crises to allow the tempers and tension arising out of them, particularly the student agitations in central university campuses, Hyderabad and JNU, to dissipate. The Rajya Sabha is likely to debate the unrest in the universities, Rohith Vemula suicide and Kahaniya Kumar’s arrest on sedition charges on Wednesday. 

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is set to speak on the issue from the government side, in order to return the Opposition fire with charges of “anti-national activities’’. But that is exactly what the Left parties are seething about, that their mainstream politics has been branded as unpatriotic and anti-national by the BJP leaders and sympathisers.

The CPI and CPM are expected to corner the government on the JNU issue; just as the Congress will take on the government on what it calls “institutional killing” of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderbad University.

Says a senior minister: “They will address their constituencies -- the left liberals, we’ll address our core constituency (the Hindu right). People will get our message.” But beyond that, there seems little hope of any other business being transacted in the first half of the session.

Barring the customary tabling of Economic Survey and presentation of Railway and General budgets, the session has a showdown between the government and  Opposition written all over it.

That may be the reason why the Prime Minister made the unusual gesture of walking up to the Opposition benches, shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, RJD’s  Jai Prakash Yadav, CPM’s P Karunakaran and even Congress Lok Sabha leader Mallikarjun Kharge and AIADMK’s M Thambidurai.

Already, intimations of the strain came when CPM leader Sitaram Yechury sarcastically remarked at the all-party meeting that “it was time the government focuses on governance” and control the many uprisings “otherwise MPs won’t be able to take bath on time and reach Parliament”. Because of the Jat quota agitation in Haryana, neighbouring Delhi went without water.

On the reservation issue, which is also scheduled to be debated and will see another round of sharp exchanges,  the BJP and Congress are unlikely to take sharp views though. Neither can afford to antagonsie the Jat community, spread across the four states of Haryana, Punjab, UP and Rajasthan.

Apart from the government, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is likely to be the target of Opposition wrath for both his handling of the JNU row and the Pathankot terror attack aftermath.

However, the government has pinned hopes on sending a message to investors (both domestic and international) through a debating but functioning Parliament -- after two washed out sessions -- on the fact that the Congress and Left cannot embrace each other too tightly this session, given the election schedule in Kerala and West Bengal where they are contesting.

Also, the Trinamool Congress is unlikely to back the grand old Congress as blindly as it did in the last two sessions, given the tacit understanding between the Left and the Congress in its Bengal fiefdom.

Nonetheless, GST can be forgotten. Small legislation, such as an ordinance amending the Enemy Properties Act and the Delimitation of constituencies in West Bengal post the Indo-Bangla border agreement, are a few bills that the government can push through. The long list of legislation may remain a listing of pending work.

Burning Issues

  1. Programme questioning Afzal Guru hanging in Jawaharlal Nehru University; Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest, Delhi police high-handedness
  2. Hooliganism of lawyers, not just in Patiala House Courts but also in Tamil Nadu, K’taka
  3. Rohith Vemula suicide in University of Hyderabad; Jat agitation for OBC quota, arson and destruction
  4. Pathankot terror attack and its aftermath
  5. No consensus on GST Bill, at least not in the first half
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