New Delhi: The growing bonhomie with friendly parties and a temporary truce in ties with key allies may not be enough for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to push through crucial economic and legislative reforms. Analysts said the short-term thaw with these parties may ensure that the ruling coalition retains power, but may not contribute much to reform initiatives.
On Tuesday, the support of the friendly parties such as Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party and its not-so-friendly allies, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), helped the ruling alliance to elect its candidate Hamid Ansari for a second term as vice-president. Ansari was re-elected as the country’s 14th vice- president with 490 out of 728 valid votes, defeating the National Democratic Alliance’s Jaswant Singh.
“I do not think the same will help the Congress to move ahead with its reform agenda,” said Sandeep Shastri, pro vice- chancellor, Jain University, and director, International Academy for Creative Teaching at Bangalore.
Although activist Anna Hazare and his team have withdrawn their high-intensity campaign for the anti-graft Lokpal Bill, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Left parties are expected to corner the government over a range of issues, including the recent violence in Assam and the drought situation.
Second innings: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi greets Mohammad Hamid Ansari after he was re-elected as the vice-president on Tuesday. Photo: Vijay Kumar Joshi/PTI
The BJP has already warned the government to expect a stormy monsoon parliamentary session that starts Wednesday and ends 7 September.
“On the first day, we will raise the issue of Kokrajhar violence in Assam. We have given a notice of calling attention. We are also planning to raise the issue of fertilizer, floods and drought. Foreign direct investment in retail and other economy related issues will be raised with the government,” former president BJP Rajnath Singh said. BJP is also likely to raise the issue of deaths during the Amarnath pilgrimage and the failure of power grids that led to a blackout that affected almost half the nation on 30 and 31 July.
Two ministers in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet said the Congress party is keen to introduce the Lokpal Bill but it’s unlikely it will be passed in the monsoon session. “Lokpal Bill cannot be passed in a hurry,” law minister Salman Khurshid has said.
“The Congress will ensure that the anti-corruption Bill is passed before the 2014 election, because many in the party feel that it would help the party salvage its image,” said one senior party leader, who did not want to be named. The Congress and the UPA government have been mired in a series of corruption charges and controversies ever since the UPA returned to power in the 2009 general election. The scandals and rising prices have affected decision-making and investments in the country.
P. Chidambaram, who has taken over as the new finance minister after Pranab Mukherjee quit the post to become India’s 13th President, has promised fiscal consolidation and a review of some controversial taxation policies to boost investor confidence.
However, the unease among allies despite the latest easing of tension may continue to stall reform initiatives. “The Congress seems to be more keen on getting the numbers game correctly, because it realized the dependability of its allies is uncertain. But it may not mean good news for its reform agenda. Congress has to see if its agenda is in political sync with the friendly parties also,” Shastri said.
Finance ministry officials have indicated that the Direct Taxes Code Bill that ensures stability in the tax regime is unlikely to be taken up in the monsoon session. The Trinamool Congress led by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has reiterated its objection to the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority Bill, foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail and insurance sector reforms.
The Communist parties are expected to press newly appointed home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on issues such as the communal violence in Assam that left 56 people dead and around 400,000 people displaced, the killing of tribals in Chhattisgarh in an encounter with security personnel and the violence at the Maruti plant in Manesar. Shinde has also been nominated as the leader of the Lok Sabha to take over from Mukherjee.
The UPA coordination committee is expected to be in place before the monsoon session starts. This was promised after ally Nationalist Congress Party protested against the functioning of the ruling coalition. Although the UPA allies are expected to discuss and iron out differences in the coordination panel, political observers have pointed out that it might further slow government initiatives.
The government has listed as many as 31 Bills for consideration in the month-long session. The Bills include those on forward contracts, banking laws, and 33% reservation for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies. However, the amendments in the Forward Contract Regulatory Authority, aimed at strengthening the commodities markets regulator Forward Markets Commission by providing it financial autonomy and powers, has not been approved by the cabinet because of objections raised by the Trinamool Congress.
Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has said that the land acquisition Bill, now named as Right to Fair Compensation, Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Bill, 2011, will also be taken up in the monsoon session. However, the government’s rejection of the parliamentary standing committee’s suggestion that the state should not acquire land for public-private-partnership (PPP) projects may make it tough for the legislation to be enacted.
Sahil Makkar contributed to this story.