This Budget session promises to be as tumultuous as any other in recent times. About 16 Bills remain to be passed in both Houses, amidst a climate of rising acrimony. If the monsoon session was washed out by Lalitgate and Vyapam, the winter session was rocked by the debate on socio-cultural intolerance. As result, the 122nd Constitutional Amendment (or GST) Bill, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, the National Waterways Bill and about nine other pending legislations are being carried over from one session to another. If the events in the capital on Tuesday were any indication, it would really come as a surprise if even a handful of the pending Bills are passed, leave aside a discussion on those likely to be introduced, such as the Indian Institute of Management Bill 2016. All that we have been assured of is the passage of the Budget and Finance Bill to ensure that the show goes on. A government that only 21 months ago assumed charge with the promise of pushing industrial growth seems to have hit a wall. It has taken steps to ease business procedures and spur startups, it has created a National Infrastructure Investment Fund and promised to introduce a bankruptcy code in this Budget. But instability and neverending disruption cannot augur well for the country’s development agenda. If the Budget is to boost investment and consumer confidence, there must first be a return to a semblance of normalcy.
The Centre can reach out to the disaffected, in the political class and outside it, to ensure a de-escalation of conflict. But once it makes the first move, the onus really lies with the Opposition to cooperate in the passage of essential legislation. In this regard, the Centre’s indication that it will allow “debate but not disruption” seems mildly encouraging. To create an ambience of dialogue, it should focus on issues of concern to all. The incendiary Jat agitation, and its variants in the past, can become a cause for initiating debate on a longstanding solution on quotas. A discussion on the terrorist intrusion into the Pathankot army base can go beyond trading charges to addressing national security concerns. Political actors on both sides need to show more flexibility, pragmatism and responsibility than has been on display so far. It is a shame that Parliament has been held hostage to self-serving politics — a process that began with the BJP obstructing proceedings when it was in opposition which the Congress and other parties have taken to even greater lengths since the Modi government was sworn in.
If India is a bright spot for investors, amidst a faltering China and other floundering economies driven by commodity exports, it is also because of its democratic institutions and perceptions about its stable socio-political climate. The recent months of anarchy may dent this image, and with it the country’s growth prospects — something that affects everyone, including the poor. If the Budget session can bring about a shift in the prevailing mood of brinkmanship, it would be a significant achievement.