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Opposition parties meets EC, demand Budget after state polls

Opposition parties meets EC, demand Budget after state polls

New Delhi: Contending that the presentation of the Union Budget ahead of assembly elections in five states will give an unfair advantage to the BJP and its allies, seven opposition parties on Thursday approached the Election Commission to demand the fiscal exercise be deferred till after March 8.

Instead of usual February 28, the budget this year is scheduled to be presented on February 1, only days before the assembly elections go underway in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur between February 4 and March 8.

A delegation comprising leaders of the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Janata Dal-United, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the DMK met Chief Election Commissioner Syed Nasim Ahmad Zaidi here on Thursday.

While the Communist Party of India-Marxist did not joint the delegation, party General Secretary Sitaram Yechury expressed his reservation on the matter and hoped the Election Commission and the President will take note and "reverse" the decision on the budget.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told the media here: "We told the EC that allowing the government to present the Budget ahead of polls will give unfair advantage to the BJP and its allies and how the exercise can be used to influence voters."

"The EC gave us all a patient hearing," said Azad.

As for the government's unwillingness to move the budget presentation date, Azad said", "If they don't accept our demand, it means they don't want polls to be fair. Then it is not democracy. Democracy requires all parties to have a level playing field."

Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha member Derek O'Brien hoped that the Election Commission will address their concerns.

"There is enough time to present the Budget after March 8. That is the fair way to do it. Not only the EC has to be fair, but it has to be seen to be fair. We are optimistic," said O'Brien.

Besides Azad and O'Brien, those who met Zaidi in the delegation were Ambeth Rajan from the Bahujan Samaj Party, Naresh Agarwal of the Samajwadi Party, T. Siva of the DMK and K.C. Tyagi of the Janata Dal-United.

Congress leader Anand Sharma said the Budget presentation prior to the assembly polls will vitiate free and fair voting.

"It is the EC mandate to ensure that no situation that may vitiate free and fair polls arises. We have already informed President Pranab Mukherjee about the issue," said Sharma.

"Presenting the Union Budget just three days before the assembly polls start not only gives an unfair advantage to the government to influence the voters, but, in fact, is a violation of the Model Code of Conduct," Tyagi said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, slammed the opposition.

"The Budget is a constitutional duty and not related to any one state. The presentation of the Budget is not a sudden decision," said Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

"The opposition parties have gone bankrupt on issues. That is why they are trying to create an issue out of a non-issue. The government has decided on February 1 for Budget presentation and irrespective of what the opposition says, it will be presented," added Naqvi.

BJP National Secretary Siddharth Nath Singh said the opposition to the Budget presentation only reflected the nervousness of the Congress and the Samajwadi Party.

"The budget is a constitutional mandate and has no connection with elections. Every now and then, we have elections... you don't postpone Budget presentation for that," Singh added.

The opposition parties earlier submitted a memorandum to President Pranab Mukherjee and the EC, requesting presentation of the Union Budget be deferred.

Zaidi on Wednesday said the EC has received the memorandum, and added the poll panel was examining it and would "take a call on it in due course".

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