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New Delhi: The more-than-a-month-long budget session began on tempestuous note with the opposition UPA trying to corner the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government on the issue of inflation even as the Congress intensified its campaign to claim the post of leader of opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha.

The opposition’s insistence on a discussion on the price rise and the recent rail fare increase led to repeated adjournments in the Lok Sabha and eventually business was abandoned for the day. In the Rajya Sabha, finance minister Arun Jaitley participating in a short-duration discussion blamed the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for the poor state of Indian Railways and inflationary pressures.

“Prices for some commodities rise because of lack of supply; it is not possible to fill this gap in five weeks (since the Narendra Modi government took over)," he said, adding, “What surprises me is that the party which brought the economy to this state wants to put the blame on someone else today."

The Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Left parties staged a walkout expressing dissatisfaction over Jailtey’s statement.

The Modi-led BJP, which ousted the Congress-led UPA government on the plank of price rise and corruption in the recent Lok Sabha election, took charge on 26 May. It has since been under attack for its inability to curb the spurt in prices of essential commodities.

Last week, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) announced a series of measures including strict legal action against hoarders and increased the number of government outlets selling onions and potatoes to contain prices.

Parliament’s budget session, which began on Monday, is expected to end on 14 August and will have 28 sittings. Railway minister Sadanand Gowda will present the rail budget on Tuesday and Jaitley will present his first Union budget on 10 July.

In the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley also fiercely defended the increase in rail fares. “The present railway minister had a Hobson’s choice. Railway fares had to be increased or it would have become difficult for railways to operate," the finance minister said amid protests from the opposition.

According to the interim budget presented this year, the railways reported a loss of 30,000 crore in the passenger segment, Jaitley said.

The government recently increased passenger and freight tariffs by 14. 3% and 6.5%, respectively.

The tension between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress continued outside the house, too. Mounting pressure on the ruling party over its demand for the post of leader of the opposition, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said: “We are the single largest party. We are entitled to leader of opposition’s post."

She said the party has not decided yet whether to approach the judiciary on the matter.

Rejecting the BJP’s allegation that the Congress was desperate for the post and has not accepted defeat, the Congress president said: “That is not true. We have lost the elections. We are aware of that."

While the BJP argues that the Congress, which has been reduced to 44 members in the Lok Sabha, falls short of the required 10% of the 543-member house to claim the post, the Congress says the speaker should consider parliamentary practices; many constitutional posts including the appointment of the anti-corruption ombudsman require consultation with the leader of the opposition.

A political analyst said the BJP may have to build a cooperative working relationship with the UPA in opposition in order to push its agenda in Parliament. “The message sent out by the opposition today was clear that unless the ruling party reaches out to the opposition parties and build a cooperative and constructive relationship, it will be difficult for the BJP to push its agenda despite having clear majority in the Lok Sabha," Balveer Arora, chairman of the Centre for Multilevel Federalism, a New Delhi-based think tank, said.

Arora said the BJP could oblige the Congress in its demand because “no precedence is binding for every session and the House has its own freedom to set new precedents for its smooth functioning".

Ragini Verma and PTI contributed to this story.

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