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Storm clouds loom on budget session - All-party meet called after Congress points no-effort finger at Centre

Published On : 04 Feb 2016


New Delhi, (The Telegraph): The Congress leadership today appeared cynical about cooperating with the government in Parliament's upcoming budget session, accusing the ruling BJP of ignoring the Opposition's concerns as fears of another washout loomed.

Party strategists insisted that relations with the government were more strained now than what they were during the last monsoon session that was washed out and the subsequent winter session that was almost as blighted.

"There has been no effort to build any bridges," a key party functionary said.


But the government appeared to have taken a tentative step, calling an all-party meeting tomorrow to discuss the schedule for the session. This is unusual because the cabinet decides the schedule, but the government wanted to consult key parties following a demand for curtailing the session because of upcoming Assembly elections in some states. There is a proposal to hold the entire session at one go, without the customary month-long recess.

While public sparring between the government and the Opposition on reform bills, particularly the goods and services tax, has been routine, the occasional interactions between leaders of the two parties have largely been seen as symbolic as the trust deficit remains high.

The intensifying acrimony was reflected in a leader's observation. "The government is running through agencies like the CBI, IB, ED and police," the leader said. "This is not a good model in democracy."

The leader refused to elaborate but conceded that even a "systemic engagement" was becoming difficult, as there had been no let-up in senior ministers attacking the Congress leadership. Although the Congress will not go to the extent of disrupting the presentation of the budget, the session is set to be stormy.

The BJP had also not tried to stall the budget despite its record of disruptions.

Some Congress leaders fondly recalled the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP's first Prime Minister, saying the government's arbitrators then were far more accommodating.

Asked if the unusual belligerence of the Congress was responsible for the current strain in ties, one leader said the party's approach had been "constructive".

"Anybody can check, parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu is on record thanking the Opposition for cooperation that led to significant work in the first few sessions. But we, the Opposition, cannot remain silent if serious issues like the Lalit Modi and Vyapam controversies come up. Democracy runs on political morality and the government should have acted to restore public confidence."

Two senior BJP leaders - foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje - have been accused of helping cricket czar Lalit, wanted by Indian agencies for alleged economic offences, while the Vyapam controversy in party-ruled Madhya Pradesh has blown up into a huge scandal.

There is no denying that the Congress has been combative. While numerical disability hasn't prevented it from creating turmoil in the Lok Sabha, it has used its numbers in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in a minority, to stonewall the government on all major issues.

Adjournment motions are a powerful parliamentary device rarely used by the Opposition, but the Congress has in the last few sessions given notices for adjournment almost daily.

Congress leaders recalled that the late Pramod Mahajan and Sushma, parliamentary affairs ministers in the Vajpayee regime, relied on consensus as an effective floor-management tool, but said there was no such mechanism in the Modi government.

The Congress has traditionally been cooperative in its role as Opposition, resorting to disruption only when a major scam like Tehelka happened during the Vajpayee regime. Quizzed about the new belligerence, senior leaders cited the BJP's track record of disruptions when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister.

The disruptions continued throughout the ten years of UPA rule, plumbing unprecedented depths when the CAG report on the spectrum and coal controversies came out. This was the worst period in terms of disruptions in the history of Parliament.







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