Budget sessions are, in any case, dreaded by coalition regimes that have to manage the numbers to ensure that there is no threat to the government. And for the Congress-led UPA, the space for political manoeuvre is sure to get smaller in the event of an adverse verdict in Punjab and Uttarakhand, results for which precede the session.
The first phase of the three-month-long session opening on Friday will also run parallel to the campaign for the Uttar Pradesh assembly in an environ vitiated by the Centre’s aborted bid to place the state under President’s rule. Add to that the spiraling prices and the ever-precarious security situation and there is a evidence of a full measure of the Molotov cocktail awaiting the ruling combine.
The numbers in the Lok Sabha still favour the Manmohan Singh government. But the sense of unease was evident in the whispers heard at Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi’s pre-Budget press conference. What if the Bahujan Samaj Party ties up with the BJP in the post-poll scenario in UP? The Telengana Rashtra Samiti, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Samajwadi Party have already disassociated from the UPA. ``If the BSP, too, parts company out of political expediency, the combination in power will be totally at the mercy of the CPI-M-led Left," said a senior Congress leader.
The prognosis does not auger well for Singh’s agenda of reforms, with the Left opposition blocking the Centre’s bid to bring the pensions reform bill or push for disinvestments of public sector units. The Marxists stonewalled the proposed dismissal of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government with an eye on its longhaul plan to build a third front based on policies and programmes. Glimpses of this may be become evident during the session after the AIADMK and the TDP also came out in Mulayam's support.
In this backdrop, it would be instructive to read the fine print of President APJ Abdul Kalam’s address to a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament on Friday. The Presidential Address outlining the Government’s policies would be Kalam’s last before the July elections to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
In fact, the Congress’s desire to have the President of its choice would be difficult to realize without electoral gains in the Punjab, UP, Uttarakhand and Manipur assembly elections. The loss of numbers in Parliament can only be recovered in the state assemblies.
On the price front, the Prime Minister has sought to smother the Opposition’s and the Left’s onslaught by setting up a special monitoring cell to keep a daily watch on the situation and writing to all chief ministers on Thursday to come down heavily on hoarders and speculators.
Price rise has been a matter of concern with the Congress and UPA partners as well.. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has, since June 2006, held three meetings of the Congress Working Committee and two meetings with Congress chief ministers to discuss the issue. Even UPA allies have articulated their concern. ``The continuous rise in prices is worrisome,’’ said RJD’s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.
In this context, the contents of Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s Budget speech on February 28 and the steps Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar takes in the coming days would be closely monitored for the relief they provide to the common man---the centerpiece of the UPA’s common minimum programme.
Likewise, Lalu Yadav’s Railway Budget on February 26 would be examined for its provisions for modernization of railways and the safety and security of passengers in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Samjhauta Express.
The train tragedy has prompted the BJP to renew its demand for a new anti-terrorism law to fill the gap created by the repeal of the earlier Prevention of Terrorism Act by the UPA regime.
A debate on Indo-Pak relations is also on the cards, after former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee told Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri that he did not agree with the latter’s claim that Islamabad was a victim of terror Like his colleague L K Advani, Vajpayee reminded the visiting dignitary of Pakistan’s promise to dismantle terrorist training camps has not materialized so far. ``Vajpayee told Kasuri that there should be peace and cross-border terror eliminated,’’ said BJP’s Yashwant Sinha.
The price rise and train tragedy apart, the session would see heated exchanges on issues like foreign direct investment in retail and the government’s disinvestment plan, which is opposed by the Left. The BJP would rake up the issue of the delay in Afzal Guru’s hanging. The discussion on the reports of the Administrative Reforms Commission and the Sachar panel—which the BJP has branded as muslim appeasement---are likely to be heated.
Issues to come up in Parliament:
1. Price Rise, farmers’ suicides and agrarian distress
2. Internal security and terror
3. FDI in retail and future trading
4. Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur assembly results
5. UP scenario after CM’s floor test
6. Sachar committee & Administrative Reforms Commission reports
7. MK Narayanan’s allegations that terrorists use banks and stock markets for their ends
9. Afzal Guru case
Bills on the anvil relating to:
1. Communal harmony
2. Police reforms
3. Forward trading
5. Foreign Educational Institutions
6. Banking Regulation
7. Maintenance of Senior Citizens
8. Unorganised Workers Social Security