Punjab Budget Session: Cong fails to fire all ammunition, but SAD-BJP not quite a winner | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Punjab Budget Session: Cong fails to fire all ammunition, but SAD-BJP not quite a winner

chandigarh Updated: Mar 26, 2015 09:28 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The Opposition Congress again had a long list of ‘failings’ of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) regime in Punjab to demand a longer assembly session. After a nearly two-week-long budget session came to an end on Wednesday, the Congress had failed to fire all ammunition, as much owing to the government strategy as its own.

Leader of the Opposition Sunil Jakhar did not hide his disappointment when he said news reports on Punjab revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia being named by some accused in a drug racket before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) just before the session had ‘hijacked’ his party's agenda.

But drugs, he added, was the most serious issue confronting the state. Having exhausted the option of no-confidence motion against the ruling combine in the winter session on Majithia's alleged involvement in the racket, the party this time announced to move a privilege motion against the minister for ‘misleading’ the House that he was called as a witness, not an accused. But the SAD did a tit-for-tat and brought a privilege motion against Jakhar for ‘maligning’ the minister.
The Congress was able to outwit the Akalis when it used the opportunity of the governor's address to highlight the drugs issue. Congress MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa openly dared the minister to resign till he comes clean. The SAD then used its trump card as chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, in an emotionally-charged speech, gave Majithia a clean chit as he concluded the debate on the governor's address.

As was expected, Vidhan Sabha speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal also rejected both privilege motions. When Jakhar tried to contest the rejection of his party's motion and the CM's clean chit to the minister on returning to the session the next day (he had to rush to Delhi owing to his father's illness), the speaker ruled it would not be taken on record.

Jakhar had to repeat his assertions to the media outside the assembly to garner news space. Though by ‘blocking’ the debate on the issue, the ruling SAD saved its ally the BJP a few blushes and deprived the Congress the chance to highlight the issue, its strategy did not help it gain a moral high ground either.

QUESTION HOUR: JITTERY MINISTERS

The Opposition was able to give question hour jitters to ministers. The speaker too had to tell the ministers to take the questions seriously saying the replies don't reach him on time. The Congress was able to pin the government down on its poll promises. Education minister Daljit Singh Cheema had to concede that the laptops scheme for students had been given a quiet burial. At one point of time, even deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had to admit that he came unprepared with answers even after being allotted more days for a reply by the speaker.

DISARMING ZERO HOUR

But what the Opposition gained during the question hour was frittered away during the zero hour, which is the most potent tool it has to corner the government. Congress MLAs spoke in different voices during the zero hour, failing to stick to one or two issues a day. The opposition failed to outwit the ruling benches’ floor strategy of cutting short the zero hour through resolutions and call attention motions. On one of the days, eight out of 10 resolutions slated to be moved in the assembly by the ruling party MLAs pertained to stray cattle and dogs! A flummoxed Opposition finally staged a walkout with Jakhar terming it as a ‘theatre of the absurd’.

NEW BUDGET, OLD RHETORIC

The fourth budget of Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa tried to mirror the changed realities. More out of compulsion than choice, Dhindsa tried to tread the path of fiscal prudence as neither the 14th Finance Commission had found it eligible for a revenue deficit grant, nor the NDA regime in Delhi for a debt bailout. Not only were the revised estimates for revenue deficit way beyond projected estimates this year, Dhindsa also did not demystify how he would keep revenue deficit at the same level when his revenue projections were not high. Grants under the Central schemes were being scaled down and his salary, pension and subsidy bills were mounting. The FM's budget speech and statement of account too told a different story. Former finance minister Lal Singh was able to embarrass the government on its rising debt and deficit budget, but no other Congress speaker came equipped with figures and facts to do so.

Jakhar pointed out a few glaring anomalies but was not able to focus his attack on them. Just as the Opposition rhetoric of comparing debt and deficit during their rule and now, Sukhbir rose to give a presentation on Punjab's growth during the Congress and their regime. It left precious little for Dhindsa to speak. Not that the finance minister had any answers to why his budget assumptions were wayward.

But what the Opposition gained during the question hour was frittered away during the zero hour, which is the most potent tool it has to corner the government. Congress MLAs spoke in different voices during the zero hour, failing to stick to one or two issues a day. The opposition failed to outwit the ruling benches’ floor strategy of cutting short the zero hour through resolutions and call attention motions. On one of the days, eight out of 10 resolutions slated to be moved in the assembly by the ruling party MLAs pertained to stray cattle and dogs! A flummoxed Opposition finally staged a walkout with Jakhar terming it as a ‘theatre of the absurd’.

NEW BUDGET, OLD RHETORIC

The fourth budget of Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa tried to mirror the changed realities. More out of compulsion than choice, Dhindsa tried to tread the path of fiscal prudence as neither the 14th Finance Commission had found it eligible for a revenue deficit grant, nor the NDA regime in Delhi for a debt bailout. Not only were the revised estimates for revenue deficit way beyond projected estimates this year, Dhindsa also did not demystify how he would keep revenue deficit at the same level when his revenue projections were not high. Grants under the Central schemes were being scaled down and his salary, pension and subsidy bills were mounting. The FM's budget speech and statement of account too told a different story. Former finance minister Lal Singh was able to embarrass the government on its rising debt and deficit budget, but no other Congress speaker came equipped with figures and facts to do so.

Jakhar pointed out a few glaring anomalies but was not able to focus his attack on them. Just as the Opposition rhetoric of comparing debt and deficit during their rule and now, Sukhbir rose to give a presentation on Punjab's growth during the Congress and their regime. It left precious little for Dhindsa to speak. Not that the finance minister had any answers to why his budget assumptions were wayward.

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