The current budget session of Parliament has been variously referred to as one, a climax of a long and protracted reality show that the UPA-II government has been putting up for us; two, an opportunity for the players in the government to exhibit their showmanship and hammer a way out of the fiscal crisis without unduly straining the tax payers further; and three, leave a lasting impression upon the evidently disconcerted aam aadmi and seal the deal for the forthcoming 2014 general elections. With a slew of bills that are waiting to be tabled during this crucial session, chiefly the Union Budget Finance bill, that will be presented by P Chidambaram on 28 February, and the Railway Budget, to be proposed by Pawan Bansal on 26 February, the annual affair could not have assumed greater significance than it does right now. The budget session of Parliament is the apex summit for deliberation at the highest level, which yields for the members of this esteemed body the chance to publicly debate and work out the best options in given economic and political circumstances. As grave financial challenges threaten to derail the economy, as more and more corruption scams come spewing out of the mouth of the system, the budget session can be harnessed to plug the grievous wounds of the recent past and address the issues that are staring at us in the face.
Besides the finance and railway budgets, several other bills are in the offing, such as those pertaining to pension and insurance, land acquisition, and university. Given this vast legislative docket, we have virtually no time to waste on the politics of obstructionism, something the foremost opposition party, the BJP, has become notorious for over the last few years. Only in the previous budget session, almost one-third of the stipulated time was lost to unwarranted and politically-motivated wrangling between the ruling and opposing parties in Parliament, as walkouts and other unparliamentary practices held the country’s top institution to ransom and raucously violated the spirit of the constitution. Clearing the contentious but critical bills in this budget session can only be achieved via a concerted effort on the part of every member of Parliament to give chance to open-minded dialogues and forge negotiations to collectively arrive at quick and effective solutions. Key bills such as the land acquisition bill, or hiking foreign direct investment in the insurance sector, would have immediate and lasting consequences on employment and job sector, thereby making them all the more significant not only in the context of the 2014 general elections, but also in the longer scheme of economic affairs. Politically-inflected bills such as the Lokpal, the Women’s Reservation Bill, and of course, the Sexual Offence Ordinance might have difficulty seeing the light of the day, there are deeper issues at stake in all these cases, and half a day would certainly not be enough to do justice to any of them. Although the Opposition has the government by its collar with regard to the series of unpalatable controversies haunting the latter, such as the VVIP chopper deal, Sushilkumar Shinde’s ‘Hindu terror’ remark, as well as the Suryanelli rape case, the budget session could salvage the UPA-II’s sagging fortunes if it is utilised judiciously to spur investment and bring the fiscal deficit under control.