A day ahead of the budget session the opposition parties hit the streets, perhaps only to indicate that the next 30 days in Parliament are going to be a stormy affair. Their reasons may have been varied but their intent was the same — putting the UPA government on the mat.
If Left party CPI coordinated with trade unions of all hues for a two-day Bharat Bandh against economic policies of the Centre, the BJP's senior leaders first held a protest rally and then marched to the residence of Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to protest against his comments linking the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh with terrorism.
With the AgustaWestland helicopter deal bringing the focus back on the Manmohan Singh-led government and allegations of corruption, the sound and fury of opposition parties suggest that they are taking this session as a run-up to the future parliamentary elections and don’t want to restrict themselves to just one issue.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh participated in an all-party meeting organised by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and hoped for a session of Parliament that would function smoothly, but it is unlikely his optimism will have any effect on the best laid plans of the opposition parties. After the same meeting, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj reiterated her party’s resolve to obtain an apology from Shinde first and then allow smooth functioning of business in the House.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley also maintained a similar tone against the UPA government and the Home Minister.
"Yeh BJP ke liye aar-paar ki ladai hai, aur isliye hum sadak par utar aya hai (we are waging a decisive battle against the government which is why we have taking it to the streets)”, he said, addressing a protest rally at Jantar Mantar. The BJP is also adding an emotive angle to Shinde comment and is blaming him for making the fictitious allegation as part of a "well thought out agenda to communally polarize the electorate”.
While hitting out at the Congress, Jaitley also appealed to the Hindu and other communities.
“Those who indulge in politics of communal polarisation and seek to lure a particular community forget that there are other communities also vote. There are a large number of people in other communities who have been hurt by Shinde’s accusations. Shinde must apologise, otherwise he should substantiate with facts that the BJP was running terror camp," Jaitley said.
The tone and tenor of the BJP leaders at the protest rally, including party president Rajnath Singh, seemed like they were addressing an election rally not an issue-based protest rally. While coming down heavily on Congress, Singh told his party workers to start visiting localities inhabited by the Muslims and Christians more often to convey the message that the BJP did not discriminate between the communities.
The constitutionally mandatory business of Budget Session – President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the joint session of Parliament on opening day of first session of 2013 on 21 February, the Railway budget on 26 February, the tabling of Economic Survey the next day and the presentation of annual budget on 28 February are expected to go smoothly.
But beyond that, both the ruling Congress and the opposition parties can be expected to stay on the path to confrontation. The confrontational posturing is expected to be maintained by all parties for two reasons. With a little over a year to go before the next elections the climate of political uncertainty at the Centre is looming large and parties have started gearing up for the polls. And secondly, there are several important assembly elections, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, that are due this year.
The Budget Session is also likely to be one viewed closely by Congress, with the party hoping to see newly appointed Vice President Rahul Gandhi taking an interest in the party's parliamentary strategy as well. There is a proposal within the party that he should come and sit in the front rows, that is normally reserved for ministers and senior leaders instead of his current seating which is in the back rows, third from the last. The Congress leader though has still not responded to the request.