New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said that his government has all the numbers required to remain in power. "We have absolute majority," said the confident prime minister before the beginning of budget session.
However, a demoralised government is bracing for difficult days in the Parliament budget session beginning on Monday, though the Congress feels the continuance of the UPA is not in doubt as the majority of Lok Sabha members are not willing to face snap polls now.
"We will endure," said a senior Cabinet minister on the eve of the session, admitting that the path was strewn with daunting challenges after the poor show by the principle player in the ruling combine at the recent Assembly elections.
The remark clearly betrayed a crisis of confidence and the government's inability to take tough decisions to put governance and the economy back on track.
While vital decisions like FDI in retail, tax and insurance reforms and education-related legislation are in cold storage, a new tormentor has popped up in the form of "federalism" to confront the central government that has been battered for unilateralism and arrogance by friends and foes alike.
The stalemate over the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) embodies the spirit of the new flashpoint on the question of federalism.
The Congress leadership realises the emotive value of this eternal debate and fully understands that its weakened position leaves no scope for confrontation with the states.
Sonia Gandhi herself set the tone for reconciliation by stressing the need for keeping the allies on board on every issue, and both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee are expected to send out unambiguous signals of a consensual approach in the coming days.
But the Congress still expects a hostile round as the BJP has been fishing in troubled waters, going to the extent of establishing floor co-ordination with UPA allies such as the Trinamool Congress. Sources in the government concede that only minimal attempts would be made to pass controversial legislation, further affecting governance.
"They will now certainly be tempted to treat us like a minority government," a senior Congress leader said, asked if the country was already dealing with a lame-duck regime.
The political downslide has come at a time the government is required to summon greater courage to meet the fresh bouts of economic slowdown and deliver on promises made to the common people.
With price rise still being identified as one of the causes of the ruling party's rejection by the people, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will again be tempted to adopt a middle path while presenting the budget instead of demonstrating fiscal prudence.
The Union budget will be presented on March 16, two days after the railway budget. The Economic Survey outlining the government's assessment of the economy will be tabled on March 15.
The first part of the budget session will conclude on March 30, resuming after the recess on April 24. The session is expected to conclude on May 22.
Corruption may also come up again in a big way with both Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev threatening to resume their agitation.
The government is drawing some solace from the fact that over 300 MPs would not like to face fresh elections now as against parties controlling around 200 MPs, which are not averse to going to the polls again.
At the same time, the UPA allies and the Congress fear that it would be difficult to carry on in this manner till 2014 when the next general election is due. Sources say this session of Parliament will shape the future as much depends on the behaviour of the Samajwadi Party and the BSP in the changed political ambience.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta