Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recited an Urdu couplet at the beginning of his budget speech in Lok Sabha Monday, seeking to underline the point that he had inherited a bad economy, but still knew how to succeed in restoring it to health.
He said: “Kashti chalane walon ne jab haar kar di patwar hamein, Lehar-lehar toofan mile aur mauj-mauj majhdhaar hamein, Phir bhi dikhaya hai hamanein aur phir yeh dikha denge, sabko, in halaat mein aata hai daria karna paar hamein (When the sailors handed the oar of a boat to us, we encountered storms and rough weather, but we demonstrated and we will still show to everyone that we know how to get ashore in a situation like this)”.
The poetry helped change the mood in the House, which met on a discordant note.
As soon as Speaker Sumitra Mahajan called upon Jaitley to speak, Congress and Left members stood up to press their privilege motion against HRD Minister Smriti Irani with regard to her response to the debate on the Rohith Vemula and JNU issues last week. The uproar, unusual on a Budget day, led to the delay in presentation of the document by a few minutes.
The Opposition members sought to know the status of their notices against Irani for “misleading” the House. “Now, it is time for Budget presentation,” the Speaker said. Mahajan said she had received notices of “question of privilege” and the matter was under her “consideration”. “You cannot raise it now”, she told Opposition members and called Jaitley’s name again. He, meanwhile, waited for the House to get into order.
Amidst the furore, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge could be seen gesturing to the Speaker to give two minutes to his party to speak on the matter. “This has never happened,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu exclaimed. “Please have some respect for the parliamentary system…It is cheap politics…This is not the way,” he told Opposition members. Mahajan called upon Jaitley again. Once he started, Opposition members sat down.
Jaitley’s wife Sangeeta, son, daughter and son-in-law were in the Speaker’s gallery to watch him speak. The speech lasted over 90 minutes. After he had been speaking for some 20 minutes, the Speaker told him that he could sit down and read if he so wished. Her concern was obviously because of his 2014 speech, when he had to sit down due to a backache. After half-an-hour or so, he sat down and continued with his speech.
Jaitley announced that he had accepted Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s suggestion for a duty reduction with regard to the Braille paper import. Rahul smiled and thumped the desk in acknowledgement. For quite a while, PM Narendra Modi rested his hand across the desk and thumped it at regular intervals. He walked up to Jaitley afterwards to shake hands with him.