Key budget session amidst rumblings

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis faces another crucial test – to ensure that the legislature’s Budget session passes off smoothly. He has yet to establish his political clout in the state and the session can provide him an opportunity to tackle the opposition, as well as his poll ally, the Shiv Sena, which has not yet accepted the Number Two position within the saffron alliance. Apart from dealing with political foes outside the Bharatiya Janata Party, he will also have to take a call on some intra-party resentment over his rise to power, leaving many seniors behind.

The budget session of the state legislature has always provided ample opportunity to the opposition to corner the government and the same is true of the current session too.  The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are no longer political allies but they do cooperate and coordinate on the floor of the legislature to appear as a credible, united opposition.

The opposition is also not as united as it portrays, as the Congress is upset over the NCP’s move to remove senior Congress leader Shivajirao Deshmukh from the post of chairman of the state legislative council, since the NCP now has more numbers in the Upper House than the Congress.

After the death of R R Patil, the NCP has put up another senior leader from Sangli – Jayant Patil as the group leader in the state legislative assembly. Patil who was finance minister in the previous government is a capable leader, whose talents have remained under-utilised. The former deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar, has taken a backseat and is providing crucial input for the party in devising strategy to consolidate the NCP’s position in the coming days. He is more likely to be travelling around the state rather than be bogged down in the nitty-gritties of legislative procedure.

The opposition is likely to corner the Fadnavis Government on the most sensitive issue of scrapping Muslim reservation in education. Former chief minister Ashok Chavan, who is a member of Parliament, had raised the issue while taking over reins of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee.

There are other issues, including the plight of the state’s farmers on account of drought and unseasonal rains. Farmer suicides continue to be the main issue in the state, despite all-out measures taken by the government during the last decade. There is no safety net for the farmers to fall back on when crops fail and their families are pushed into debt traps. The available network of nationalist, private and cooperative banking systems have failed to provide any relief. Leader of Opposition in the state legislative assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil has already announced targeting the government for its failure to provide relief to drought-affected farmers.

The recent daylight murder of the Communist leader Govind Pansare is another emotional issue, which the opposition will raise, to focus on the law and order situation in the state. The murder of social reformer Narendra Dabholkar, which took place during the Congress-NCP rule too remains unsolved. The government will have to be ready with satisfactory replies on these cases.

The Fadnavis Government has hit back, saying that the opposition has no real issue to raise during the session, but such blanket debunking of opposition strategy will not help the government at all. What is needed are some positive steps and policy initiatives to fulfil electoral promises.

It seems that the chief minister will have to spend more time in cajoling his ally, the Shiv Sena, which never hesitates to make noise at every opportune movement. The Sena is not merely putting the Fadnavis Government on the mat, but is also taking potshots at the Narendra Modi Government in Delhi. The recent case of the release of separatist leader Masarat Alam by the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, has left the Sena fuming. The Sena mouthpiece Saamana has blamed the Modi Government for neglecting national interests, while forming an alliance government with the PDP in Kashmir.

The Sena is more worried about the impending elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and has publicly criticised the new Development Plan for the city and the proposal for a metro car shed at Aarey Colony. It has been protesting against the proposed Land Acquisition Bill presented in Parliament, saying that it is against the interests of the farmers. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has been asking the Union Government to scrap the nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in coastal Konkan.  Fadnavis will have to use his political skills to make an unwilling Sena fall in line and cooperate with the government in running the administration and facing the opposition during the session.

Apart from these politically sensitive issues, the government will be mostly judged on the kind of budget it presents during the session. Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who has made elaborate speeches during previous sessions, will now be presenting the Budget for the first time. The previous government has left the treasury totally bankrupt and the government has yet to repay loans to the tune of Rs 2 lakh crore. The Budget will reflect what measures the government takes to make the state entrepreneur-friendly, as many have left the state, shifting base to neighbouring states.

The government will have to  further tax the rich and provide some relief to the already harassed public, find ways to give new direction to the state for creation of more jobs and the development of the agriculture sector in the state. The irrigation sector is riddled with allegations of corruption and unless a way out is found, it will continue to affect the overall economy of the state.

The Budget will speak more about the Fadnavis Government than debates on other politically sensitive issues.

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