In a bid to decide the course of action against members of Parliament accused of human trafficking, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee will meet leaders of political parties on Wednesday.
The meeting is scheduled just a day ahead of the second part of the Budget session of Parliament, which will continue till 22 May. Evolving a consensus on errant MPs may be the most immediate task, but not quite the most difficult one for the upcoming session.
This session coincides with the politically critical seven-phase assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, where the last three phases are due on 28 April, 3 May and 8 May. The results will be known on 11 May.
Even more than the first part, which was rocked by intermittent disruptions, the second part of the Budget session appears primed for turbulence. Polls in the country’s largest state can alter existing political alliances and decide the next occupant of Rashtrapati Bhawan, in the presidential election slated for June.
“The government is clearly on the backfoot. This may be its toughest test so far, especially with a restive Left Front and a resurgent opposition,” says political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan. “The government is under increasing pressure, from within the ruling United Progressive Alliance because of the setback in the Supreme Court over the issue of reservation for other backward classes in central educational institutions. This will only compound the (political) pressure on account of food price inflation, which cost the Congress its governments in Punjab and Uttarakhand. And now, it has higher interest rates to contend with as well.”
Despite fewer problems in the first part of the Budget session, railway minister Lalu Prasad had to present his budget in complete din and finance minister P.Chidambaram never got a chance to reply to the general debate.
According to data compiled by PRS Legislative Research, an independent think tank, which is an initiative of the Centre for Policy Research, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha worked for 17 days and 18 days, respectively, in the first part of the Budget session—the Lok Sabha worked for 64 hours 35 minutes instead of the allotted 102 hours, while the Rajya Sabha worked for just 50 hours 38 minutes instead of the 90 hours that it should have worked. This happened thanks to adjournments due to a range of issues.
As a result, of the 46 Bills in the ministry of parliamentary affairs’ indicative list for the entire session, only six could be passed in the first part. Five other Bills, including the Finance Bill 2007, were introduced in the first part, leaving 35 Bills in the government’s original list that have not been taken up yet.
The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, despite a setback following the arrest of its MP, is set to up the ante. To make matters worse for the government, the Left parties have been raising the spectre of withdrawing outside support unless the government demonstrates more commitment in implementing the common minimum programme. Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Nilotpal Basu, however, said his party was yet to firm up the issues it wanted to raise in this session.
“Expect the opposition to go on the offensive,” predicts Rangarajan. “They are yet to reveal their entire arsenal, but it’s going to be a cruel summer for the Congress.”