Parliament’s last week was just after the Assembly election results of five states were declared. Not surprisingly, therefore, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed as “lion of Gujarat” when he arrived for Thursday’s Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha. He received asimilar welcome from BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha. Although the Congress had the Punjab victory to answer for the BJP’s capture of UP and Uttarakhand, it cried “murder of democracy” in both Houses over Goa and Manipur, where BJP-led coalitions were invited to form governments, ignoring its “claim” for being the single largest party. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad raised an interesting point that the BJP had already formed governments in Goa and Manipur where it emerged without majority in the polls, and was yet to initiate the same process in UP and Uttarakhand, where its victories had impressed everyone. Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, armed with facts, listed instances at the Central and state levels where ‘alternative coalitions,’ including the one led by Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998, presenting more credible options, were sworn into office. The Congress led walk-outs on the issue in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, and forced repeated adjournments in the Rajya Sabha the next day by shouting slogans in the well of the House.
Despite this, the two Houses proceeded with the Budget session work. While the Lok Sabha discussed the working of the Ministries of Railways, Defence, Home and Agriculture, the Rajya Sabha trailing behind, resumed its General Budget discussion. After the recent derailments, safety in rail travel was uppermost in the minds of the Lok Sabha members when they spoke on the Railway Ministry’s Demands for Grants. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu spoke of Rs.10,000 crores being spent on safety works. The rail accidents were being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), he said. Congress and Shiv Sena members staged a walk-out when Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, intervening in a discussion on the Demands for Grants of his Ministry, said the Centre would bear the burden of the farmers’ loan waiver only in Uttar Pradesh, and gave no assurance for other states. The members were agitated when the minister said that in UP’s case, the BJP had made a poll promise that it would finance a loan waiver, if it came to power in the state.
The Defence Budget discussion brought up the surgical strikes issue, and Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre said these strikes on terror launch pads across the Line of Control were carried out on the basis of specific information on possible attacks on the country from there. While there was absolute precision in the strikes, no Indian casualty was suffered, he said. Rejecting Congress member Jyotiraditya Scindia’s charge that the Army was not getting new weapons, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, who holds the Defence charge in addition to his Finance Ministry portfolio after the movement of Mr Manohar Parrikar to Goa as its new Chief Minister, said the armed forces were fully prepared to meet any threat to the country. Home Minister Rajnath Singh replied to the Home Ministry debate on Friday and said the Centre had adopted a humanitarian approach towards problems of Jammu and Kashmir. The Lok Sabha debates were exhaustive as the House sat till late in the evening, allowing members to have their say.
The Rajya Sabha’s General Budget discussion had Mr Jairam Ramesh of the Congress saying that demonetisation might have been a “smart” political move but it had a “spurious and dubious logic behind it”. Judging from bank credit, railway freight and electricity consumption, the economy’s performance as flat. Both Houses welcomed the return of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj after her medical treatment, and heard her assuring statements on crimes against Indians in the US, and fishermen’s release from Pakistan and Sri Lankan custody.