Dear Mr Chidambaram, I understand you would be a terribly busy man these days. Presenting a national budget is no easy job. There are so many interests you would need to satisfy and so many expectations to meet.
There’s a general election round the corner and your party would be betting big on you to deliver something they can go to the electorate with. There would be demands to provide a massive push to the process of growth and there would be pressure to address growth-induced poverty too.
Balancing the many conflicting and competing interests of several sectors of the economy is no simple job, neither is bringing down fiscal deficit without paying heed to its electoral consequences.
You have to initiate measures to beat down inflation to make Reserve Bank of India enthused enough to cut rates and you have to do this and that. In short, you have to present a budget that taxes none and pleases all. In my assessment, that is difficult. Dream budgets don’t happen all the time.
Thank God, I am not the finance minister of the country.
As man of considerable experience you would be prepared for the post-budget reaction. Here’s how it is likely to go:
The BJP: It’s a disappointing budget, lacking in imagination and creativity
The Left: The government plans to punish the poor to favour the rich. It’s a hopeless budget.
Those placed anywhere between the BJP and the Left: It’s an election budget. The government has washed its hands of the farmers and the poor.
The know-it-all crowd in the media, the perennial whiners, would have another occasion to drive themselves to frenzy. Of course, they would find hardly anything right with your labour of love. To be negative and all doom and gloom is fashionable these days. You know you will never be able to please these sections. You are damed if you do, damned if you don’t. So go about your job with no fear.
If you don’t take offence, I would offer you a few hints about people like me. You might mull these over while making the budget. They call me the aam aadmi. I am supposedly the most powerful player in the democracy and the person responsible for whatever is wrong with the finances or politics of the country. Leaders stall all reforms invoking my name and they hit the streets quite often at the perceived pains inflicted on me by the government’s policies.
I would like to make one thing clear: They don’t represent me. They represent their own interests. Don’t be worried too much about what I would feel about any of your decisions based on the reactions of these people. They have a habit of distorting the reality. They would like to convey the impression that I am a free-loader, which I emphatically assert, I am not.
Yes, price rise hurts. But I know it won’t kill me. My household budget has gone haywire after food prices hit the roof. However, I have accepted it, like I have come to accept non-functioning streetlights and corrupt clerks in government offices. The polluted eco-system around me makes me resistant to such situations. You would have noticed, that I was not swayed too much by the opposition parties’ song and dance over price rise in the number of assembly elections in the last two years.
When you hike prices of petroleum products, politicians of all hues, including from your party, hop mad. Have you seen me taking to the streets over that? I also understand the economy a bit and I realise, prices cannot remain the same forever. I understand that the subsidy burden on the nation’s finances is too heavy. Some correction is required. I don’t hesitate to a pay a small amount more from my pocket to salvage the situation.
Don’t listen to my supposed benefactors. I am not a beggar. They want to portray me as one.
But one thing I must make clear. You cannot take my patience for granted. And don’t dare call it indifference. It is my money you are spending. When you announce measures for my benefit you are doing no charity. You have my mandate to spend it judiciously. It has to be a relationship of equals, not one between the giver and the taker. I want my money well-spent, and accountability. I will demand answers from you when money meant for the social sector does not help the target groups. I will ask questions when I feel you have messed with my money.
That’s all for now. Concentrate on a good budget. Bye.