Rough political winds set to batter UPA sails

Rough political winds set to batter UPA sails

To cope with Opposition storm, govt set to unveil universal health, food plans

A beleaguered Congress-led government is likely to find itself in the line of fire, not only from a resurgent Opposition led by the BJP, but also the United Progressive Alliance’s disgruntled constituent, the Trinamool Congress, on Monday when the Budget Session of Parliament commences.

File photo

After the Congress’s poor show in the recently concluded Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Goa, the Manmohan Singh Government will try to shrug off the “lame duck” tag and end the “policy paralysis” the UPA-II has been suffering from since long.

The government will be hoping that President Pratibha Patil’s customary address to the joint sitting of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha on Monday and the General Budget Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is set to present on Friday may help in burnishing its none-too-bright image.

To give a boost to the Congress’ sagging fortunes over the next two years before the 2014 parliamentary polls, the government might announce its plan to roll out a scheme for universal health coverage. It is keen to push through the National Food Security Bill, which seeks to provide 75 per cent of rural population and 46 per cent of urban population legal entitlements to subsidised food grains. The Congress also wants the government to maintain its priority on containing price rise and expects the finance minister to renew focus on the party’s “aam aadmi” agenda and propose some populist measures in his Budget.

But the grim outlook of economy, an increasingly combative opposition and differences within the ruling alliance are likely to make the task all the more difficult for the government.

Adding to the woes of the UPA dispensation are the growing assertiveness and clamour by non-Congress chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, J Jayalalitha of Tamil Nadu and Naveen Patnaik of Odisha against what they perceive as infringement of the state governments’ powers by the Centre.

The Congress on Sunday could persuade Banerjee to drop her plan to travel to Chandigarh and Lucknow to attend the swearing-in ceremonies of the Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal and Samajwadi Party’s youth icon Akhilesh Yadav as chief ministers of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh respectively.

She is, however, sending two leaders of her party, West Bengal Tourism Minister Rachpal Singh and Union Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed, to Chandigarh and Lucknow respectively to attend the swearing-in ceremonies as her representatives.

Political circles were abuzz with speculation about realignment towards Third Front since Saturday, when Banerjee received invitations from the SAD – an ally of the BJP – and the SP to attend the oath-taking ceremonies of Badal and Yadav. It took the Congress both persuasions in private and tough-talking in public to make her drop her plan on Sunday.

The Congress, however, will still have a tough time in managing its troublesome ally in Parliament. The TMC, which has already locked horns with the Congress on several issues, is likely to raise its pitch targeting the government in both the Houses, particularly to protest the Union Government’s Centre’s alleged moves to flout the principles of federalism, be it by incorporating provisions for Lokayukta in the Lokpal Bill or by setting up the National Counter Terrorism Centre.

The BJP and its allies too are likely to step up the offensive against the government and particularly support the TMC, to protest the Centre’s alleged attempts to infringe upon the rights of the state governments.

With poll results in UP, Punjab and Goa weakening the UPA government further, the BJP last week stoked speculation about mid-term parliamentary elections. Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi added momentum to it saying his party might be happy to have the parliamentary elections now instead of two years later. He retracted his statement later.

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