New Delhi, March 4: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani directed BJP MPs not to air their views publicly on the budget and their demand for a rollback of the urea and fertiliser price hike.
Addressing the weekly parliamentary party meeting, Advani — who chaired it instead of the Prime Minister, who was replying to the motion of thanks on the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha — asked the MPs to give their suggestions and proposals in writing either to him or to finance minister Jaswant Singh. They were assured that these would be “sympathetically” considered and, depending on their “merit”, incorporated in the finance minister’s reply to the discussions on the budget in the House.
Stating that the BJP was “proud of the NDA government’s track record”, party spokesman V.K. Malhotra quoted Advani as saying: “But our opponents are always trying to create differences within the Cabinet, between the party and government, party and the Sangh parivar and the BJP and the allies. The Opposition is playing on these so-called differences, but it has not succeeded so far.”
Therefore, the MPs were asked to speak in “one positive” voice about the budget to “guard” against the Opposition’s “machinations”. Everyone has a right to speak but in the right forum so as not to give a handle to the Opposition, Advani reportedly said.
As many as 20 MPs were awaiting their turn to urge Singh for a rollback of the price hike but he too was in the Rajya Sabha to answer questions. Nonetheless, Uttar Pradesh MP Shyam Bihari Mishra protested that traders were not sure if the Centre could adequately compensate the net loss of revenue they might suffer because of the value-added tax (VAT) which will come into effect from April 1.
Sources said Mishra stressed that traders should have been consulted before imposing VAT to “find out what their apprehensions are”.
For the record, the BJP parliamentary party welcomed the budget.
“All sectors, especially the middle-class, poor and senior citizens, got a lot of relief. There was removal of surcharge duty, standard deductions, exemption of dividend from tax, reduction of excise duty and a health insurance scheme across the board,” Malhotra said.
Privately, MPs sounded unhappy with Advani’s diktat. With the allies keeping up the roll-back pressure — Rashtriya Lok Dal leader and Union minister Ajit Singh called the budget “anti-farmer” in Lucknow — the BJP’s MPs wondered if it was “politically tenable” for them to keep mum.
Lok Sabha protest
But the treasury benches maintained a frosty silence in the Lok Sabha as the Opposition stepped up its demand for an immediate rollback of fertilser and diesel price hikes.
“Moolya vridhi vaapas lo, vaapas lo; kisan virodhi yeh sarkar nahin chalega, nahin chalega,” shouted Opposition back-benchers as they trooped to the well of the House during zero hour.