February 2016 News

Budget A Damp Squib, PDP Hopes Dashed

29 February 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arteev Sharma and Amir Karim Tantray

Jammu: The Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has turned to be a damp squib for Jammu and Kashmir as it has nothing to offer to the state, making it tough for the PDP to re-stitch an alliance with the BJP and form a government. It has brought huge disappointment for the PDP, which had sought new confidence-building measures (CBMs), including economic concessions, from the Centre before realigning with the saffron party. It was being perceived that after the unsuccessful political exercise, announcements of some state-specific economic reforms in the Budget by the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre could rekindle efforts to form a government following the death of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on January 7. For PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, who has not refused to share power with the BJP so far, the absence of any state-specific economic element in the Union Finance Minister's Budget speech may prove to be a major roadblock in making up her mind to form an government in the state. On February 2, Mehbooba Mufti, after a meeting with Governor NN Vohra, asked the Centre to take some CBMs before formation of a new government in the state. Political pundits decoded CBMs as political and economic issues concerning the state and its people. The key economic issues in the mind of the PDP president were probably smart city status for Srinagar and Jammu, return of NHPC-owned Salal and Uri power projects to the state government, adequate rehabilitation and relief for flood-affected people, funds for setting up an AIIMS each in Kashmir and Jammu region and liberal funding. The Union Finance Minister dashed the hopes of PDP leaders when he did not make any announcement about economic reforms as desired by Mehbooba Mufti in his address. Mehbooba's reluctance to join hands with the BJP and the demand for more state-specific sops had its roots in the dwindling popularity of her party in the Kashmir valley. It was noticed when low turnouts were witnessed at the funeral of her father and subsequent mourning rituals. All these factors forced her to describe her father's decision of aligning with BJP as 'a courageous although unpopular decision'. No mention of Mufti's death and its political bearings in Kashmir in the recent President's Address to Parliament at the start of the Budget session had displeased the PDP president and her party colleagues. Keeping in mind the importance of the Union Budget after Mehbooba's demand for more CBMs, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted on Sunday, 'Looking forward to the Budget 2016 tomorrow. It is supposed to contain the keys to government formation in Jammu and Kashmir.' The state Congress termed the Union Budget as disappointing. It felt that the BJP-led NDA government had given nothing to Jammu and Kashmir. 'What the state was demanding throughout the year, be it setting up two AIIMSes, two smart cities, compensation to flood victims, rehabilitation packages for refugees, return of Pandits to the Valley or compensation to farmers, nothing has been announced. It was a formality for the Union Finance Minister, who just read a book and finished it,' said Ghulam Ahmed Mir, JKPCC chief. National Conference working president Omar Abdullah termed the Budget as 'clever and against suit-boot people' as the BJP had been facing taunts from the Opposition for being pro-corporate. 'By not focusing benefits of Union Budget 2016 on suit-boot people, Jaitley has cleverly made the Opposition's job a bit tougher,' he tweeted. State BJP president Sat Sharma welcomed the Budget and described it as 'people-oriented, pro-poor and pro-farmer'. 'The government has focused on the poor, farmers and middle class. The tax exemption on HRA is a welcome step,' he said.