Political signals emanating just ahead of the start of the second part of the budget session on Thursday point to the end of the government's honeymoon period.
Over the last few days political parties on the Left and the Right of the spectrum have demonstrated their determination to put the government on the mat through cut motions. However, the Congress is confident of meeting the challenge.
On Wednesday the Bharatiya Janata Party met with its National Democratic Alliance partners to finalise its parliamentary strategy. Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj was confident that no matter which party's cut motion is taken up, the entire Opposition would vote against the government.
A 13-party group, including the Left, met a few days ago and on Thursday the Left is expected to meet once again to find a way out of “technical” problems of moving a cut motion on the hike in taxes on petroleum products. Although the Communist parties are sensitive to Congress barbs that they would be joining hands with “non-secular parties” against the government, they have dismissed the charge. They have pointed out that the voting will be on issues; after all, the BJP and the Congress and the Left voted together in the Rajya Sabha on the women's Bill.
Although the Bahujan Samaj Party has not yet taken a public stand on the proposed cut motions, the Congress cannot find any consolation in this given its almost daily spat with BSP leader Mayawati.
A host of issues expected to come up during the session includes the killing of Central police personnel by Maoists in Dantewada and the more recent controversy around Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor's “mentoring” of the Indian Premier League's Kochi team and its alleged connection with the sweat equity of around Rs. 70 crores gifted to his friend Sunanda Pushkar.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi exuded confidence the government would ride out the storm: “We will defeat the cut motions. We are not jittery and we are fully capable of dealing with the situation.” The Congress confidence is boosted by the hard political reality that neither the BJP nor the Left nor the Samajwadi Party is interested in seeing the government out just yet as they have not yet repaired the damage they have suffered in their own constituencies. These parties have stated their intention is not to destabilise the polity, although the Congress has charged them with doing precisely this.
Meanwhile, Mr. Tharoor gave an interview to a television channel saying he would not resign as that would mean giving up. As an elected representative of Kerala, he had simply wanted to bring cricket to life in his State.
Digvijay differs with Chidambaram
On the Maoist issue, differences have erupted between AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram. In an article for a business paper, Mr. Singh said he disagreed with the Home Minister for treating the issue as a law and order problem without taking on board issues concerning tribals. Some Congressmen welcomed this privately, saying it was a signal the party would take a more sympathetic stand towards issues concerning adivasis. All that Mr. Singhvi would say on record was: “The Congress is a democratic party which encourages differing points of view but these should be expressed within the party forums.”
In an article in a newspaper, Mr. Singh, during whose tenure as Chief Minister Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh, said of Mr. Chidambaram: “He is extremely intelligent, articulate, committed and a sincere politician — but extremely rigid once he makes up his mind. I have been a victim of his intellectual arrogance many times but we still are good friends.”
“I have differed with his [Mr. Chidambaram's] strategy [on tackling the Naxal issue] that does not take into consideration the people living in the affected area, who ultimately matter. He is treating it purely as a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues that affect the tribals,” Mr. Singh said.
“When I raised these issues with him [Chidambaram], he said it was not his responsibility.”
‘Buck stops with CM’
At the same time, the AICC general secretary said “the buck stops with the Chief Minister for law and order and not with the Union Home Minister.