Ire unites Opposition

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By OUR BUREAU in Delhi
  • Published 9.01.04

New Delhi, Jan. 9: Buffeted by the BJP’s feel-good wave, the Congress’ sole hope lay in the ring of unity in its prospective allies’ chorus against the government.

As the Congress, whose initial response was overtaken by Jaswant Singh’s second sortie today, put together an offensive, so did the rest of the Opposition.

A crucial factor the Opposition is expected to focus on is the perception that the new government will have little option but to offset the current largesse by taking a series of harsh measures, ranging from fuel price increases to a cut in fertiliser subsidies, later this year.

Jaswant’s package of sops does an “unprecedented double bypass. It bypasses a vote-on- account and it bypasses the budget. It makes a mockery of parliamentary conventions, procedures and discussion,” said Congress chief spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy.

The Left parties, the BSP and the DMK spoke more or less in the same language.

“It has completely ignored Parliament and violated budgetary procedures in announcing major changes in the taxation structure and cuts in excise and customs duties,” a CPM statement said.

Forced to take an economic pause in the middle of a political dash, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is expected to oil back into action a think-tank of Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Jairam Ramesh.

Congress sources said Sonia would field Manmohan and Pranab, both former finance ministers, to “expose” the hidden cost of the government’s “reckless” pre-poll sweeteners. Ramesh, the party secretary in the AICC’s economic affairs department, is already gathering data.

The Congress is also hoping to appeal to the intelligence of the voters. Manmohan indicated as much today in Mumbai, saying that “the mini budget is an insult to the generation of people who know what the BJP has followed in the past few years”.

Amid the chorus, the voice of Karunanidhi, an erstwhile BJP ally who clinched a poll deal with the Congress yesterday, rang sharper. “My only surprise is how Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee gave his nod to these concessions, though they will benefit the common people in general,” the DMK leader said.

So surprised was the Opposition by Jaswant’s rapid-fire announcements that Sonia’s first reaction turned redundant by the evening.

In the afternoon, Sonia had criticised the government for ignoring farmers. A few hours later, Jaswant came up with the package for farmers.