By Rajnish Singh
New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS) The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalemate was witnessed even during the Budget 2021 presentation in Parliament on Monday when Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the first ever digital annual expenditure of Independent India.
After sloganeering to repeal three contentious farm laws, the SAD along with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) walked out of the Lok Sabha in solidarity with the protesting farmers when Sitharaman began her speech at 11 a.m. However, the major opposition party Congress remained silent and participated in the Budget proceedings.
SAD MPs Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal sloganeered at the start of the budget presentation demanding the repeal of the farm laws. Both carried posters and flashed them for five minutes into the Budget presentation that was attended by the top BJP brass led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
RLP chief Hanuman Beniwal and the AAP’s Bhagwant Mann also joined the Badals in the protest and sloganeering and in the eventual walkout from the budget demanding withdrawal of the agriculture reform laws.
On the opposition benches, Congress President Sonia Gandhi was absent. However, her son and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi briefly participated in the Budget presentation but as a mute spectator. National Conference Chief Farooq Abdullah, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Yadav also marked their presence for a short period.
The opposition, however, countered the ruling side during the Finance Minister’s 110-minute marathon speech with the shadow of the farmers’ agitation looming large in the house from the beginning.
The Trinamool Congress was the most aggressive during the budget presentation with MPs Saugata Roy and Kalyan Banerjee repeatedly taunting the Finance Minister in loud voices every time she mentioned a politically sensitive issue including the proposed disinvestment of strategic companies, private management of ports and government commitment to MSP.
When Sitharaman spoke about infrastructure development mentioning about the private sector, the opposition shouted ‘Adani’ in one voice.
The parliamentarians on the opposition benches unitedly passed comments when the Finance Minister began speaking about the government’s commitment to higher procurement of farmers’ produce at the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and shared data on record payments to farmers for wheat, paddy and pulses procurement.
Congress MPs from Punjab Ravneet Bittu and Gurjeet Aujla wore black clothes in solidarity with the agitating farmers. Aujla was sitting with a poster on which was written in Hindi “kisano ki maut, kala kanoon wapas lo” (repeal black law which is killer of farmers).
However, the mood of the house was sombre throughout the budget speech when Sitharaman was elaborating on the government’s plan aimed at boosting the economy.
The treasury benches comprising PM Modi, Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari and others frequent thumped the desk to applaud the Finance Minister’s speech. The Prime Minister at the end of speech walked up to Sitharaman to personally thank her.
In a significant change amid digitalisation, Sitharaman this year unveiled a ‘Made in India’ tablet replacing the traditional briefcase before presenting Budget 2021.
With the move aimed at a paperless Budget, the ‘bahi khata’ (a ledger wrapped in a red cloth) has been completely removed from this year — a move to reinforce Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious ‘Digital India’ mission.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)