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Centre on the back foot

Centre on the back foot
Highlights

Who would have thought that Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA Government would be facing its very first and full-fledged Budget Session of Parliament with a mixed bag, badly exposing some of its political and administrative weaknesses?

Who would have thought that Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA Government would be facing its very first and full-fledged Budget Session of Parliament with a mixed bag, badly exposing some of its political and administrative weaknesses?

Huge expectations that its poll victories generated last year remain, but in public mind, uncertainties have crept in. There is this feeling of déjà vu. The Session opens today with government in tussle over identical issues and trying to tackle equally identical differences -- which are parliamentary democracy at work -- with the Opposition parties that are far smaller in numerical strength than in the recent years.

The government that rode to power on a wave of public anger, as yet unable to make concrete moves to curb graft (Lokpal Bill) and recover black money, is itself caught in a scam. Shaking public faith in governance is an “oil leak”, likely caused with greasing of palms, that has rocked not just the Petroleum Ministry but the entire nation.

Its top secret official documents having security implications and possibly budget projections are feared to have found their way into some boardrooms of India Inc. Arrests of officials, sticky tapes and chain-full of duplicate keys to the ministry’s corridors have pushed the government on the back foot. The issue is God-sent for the Opposition, while it pits the government against the entrepreneur class that has been very supportive.

On political front, two governments have defied the Centre, in effect Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under different circumstances blocking the NDA’s winning spree and plans to gain nationwide predominance. Aam Aadmi Party, decimating BJP, took office in Delhi. In Bihar, readying for polls later this year, Nitish Kumar, a known Modi baiter, has returned to power, frustrating BJP’s efforts to prop a minority government. The “Janata Parivar” is back in the reckoning, and likely to merge into a party. The government would have to use all its wits and tact to push through legislations to replace ordinances it issued, inviting presidential criticism, especially on land acquisition. With AAP rejoining forces with social activist Anna Hazare to stage a rally in New Delhi, and opposition parties likely to chip in, this may be difficult.

Under such circumstances, the government may find it difficult to push through its business in Parliament. One of them is a much-desired, much-awaited move to grant special status to Andhra Pradesh. Although she lost both States in the Lok Sabha polls, and has nothing further to lose, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has written to the Centre asking that the commitment made by her UPA Government before the State was bifurcated last year be fulfilled. It appears difficult, but not impossible. Chances are that during a prolonged Parliament session the NDA government is able to sort things out. The Telugus can keep their fingers crossed.


The picture is not all bleak. With some of the economic indicators looking up, the Economic Survey would be worth waiting for. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s first full-length budget, with likely sops to the middle classes and Suresh Prabhu’s rail budget hold the key to the Modi Government’s immediate plans and the perceptions they generate among the people.

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