With less than a fortnight to go for the presentation of the Budget 2016, the divide between the two main Indian political parties â€“ the BJP and the Congress â€“ seems to be widening.
While the BJP-led NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under attack for its handling of JNU students over the Afzal Guru death anniversary issue, the Congress is keen to take on the government head-on, using macroeconomic data and the latest political development to good effect, just days before Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is set to present the budget on Feb.29.
At a press conference last Friday in New Delhi, Abhishek Singhvi, spokesperson for the Congress, took on the Modi government on a range of issues, from the alleged fake encounter of Ishrat Jahan to the JNU protests, besides the state of the economy.
"Let us presume that Ishrat Jahan was a suspected terrorist. What is the course of action the BJP is proposing? That she should be liquidated in a false encounter? As a civilised country governed by law and order, should we not proceed by trying her in the court of law as Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru were tried? The BJP was advocating hanging them by the nearest lamp-post. How is India different from a banana republic if we too resort to such practices?" BusinessLine reported Singhvi as saying.
Mocking the government for holding events such as "Make in India" without showing commensurate results on the ground, he said: "This clueless government has no idea on how to revive it (the economy) and they seem to move from one slogan and event to another without even attempting to address the real crisis at hand."
Singhvi also said that apart from the fact that 29 state-owned banks have written off Rs 1.14 lakh crore of bad debts during 2013-2015, the rupee, which was at 58.5 to a dollar when the BJP came to power, has dropped to 68.38, a fall of 17 percent.
The NDA government is facing a grim situation, notwithstanding the description of Asia's third largest economy as a "bright spot" by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Retail inflation at a 17-month high in January, factory output (IIP) registering a second straight month of contraction in December, third quarter GDP growth rate coming at 7.3 percent, the lowest in the past three quarters, and merchandise exports registering decline for the 13th month in a row in December have emboldened the Congress â€“ which was reduced to its lowest tally in its history after the 2014 general elections â€“ to question the government's performance on the economic front.
Given the current political circumstances, Jaitley, who often says that "all political parties are with the government on economic legislations except the Congress," may find it difficult to secure their support, given that they would find it politically expedient to go with the Congress.
After all, the JD(U), the RJD and the Communists have found a common cause to take on the government and would not like to break ranks with the GOP (read the Congress) over the GST legislation, more so when crucial Assembly polls to five states â€“ Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry â€“ are round the corner. It would be politically naive to expect the Congress and the larger Opposition to support the NDA government at a time when it is politically weak.
To use a stock market phrase, the Modi government is going through a bearish phase, much like the Sensex that posted its single biggest weekly fall in a year last week.
The Budget Session needs to be seen in this context. The probability â€“ a high one at that â€“ of a united Opposition taking on the government over the JNU students' issue and the Ishrat Jahan encounter case could mar the session. On the other hand, if the government is seen as unable to pass key economic legislations during the session, it would send the wrong signals to the marlets.