The Narendra Modi-led BJP government has succeeded in giving a political message through the Union Budget 2017 — it is pro-poor and is inclined to give special thrust to the welfare of the underprivileged and marginalised sections of the society.
The budget spoke more on social sectors especially those concerning a large mass of the Indian population and less on industry and business. And in doing so, the Modi government has in its prudence effectively addressed the initial criticism levelled by its political and social critics that it was favourable to big business and industrial houses.
The political and economic message that the current budget contained has acquired a greater significance also because it came after the Modi government had completed nearly three years in office and after a disruptive demonetisation move, and thus the burden of popular expectation was much greater on the government.
It also came at a time when the Assembly election process was on in five states — Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur — involving roughly one-sixth of Indian electorate.
It was not without a reason that Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, spoke of the hopes and aspirations that the people have attached to the government at the very outset of the budget speech. "Ours was elected amidst huge expectations of the people. The underlying theme of countless expectations was good governance. We have undertaken a transformative shift in the way our country is governed. We have moved from a discretionary administration to a policy- and system-based administration; from favouritism to transparency and objectivity in decision making; from the blanket and loose entitlements to targetted delivery; and from informal economy to formal economy," Jaitley said on Wednesday.
It was interesting to note that for the first 50 minutes Jaitley kept talking about social sectors and kept on repeating politically correct words like farmers, poor, underprivileged, women, Dalits, tribal, youth, middle class and senior citizens, and the various schemes that could be beneficial to them.
The budget speech delivered by the finance minister seemed like an extension of what Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in his address to the nation on 31 December 2016, after deposits of demonetised notes and his 50-day hardship deadline had come to an end. Jaitley referred to that in his speech. Modi's announcement of a nationwide scheme for financial assistance to pregnant women (Rs 6,000 to be transferred directly to the bank accounts of such women to undergo institutional delivery and vaccinate their children) was incorporated in the budget.
Though it is customary for the prime minister to speak about the budget presented by the finance minister in the Parliament, what was interesting to note about it was that Modi spoke at length in his televised message, talking about each social segment in detail and thereby virtually taking ownership of the budget. It is good to see the prime minister taking ownership of the economic policy of the budget and take bouquet or flak as the case may be. He had done so last year, and he has done the same for a second consecutive budget.
However, it will be for his party, the BJP, and all its propaganda machinery to take it to the people particularly in the states going to polls, and UP, in particular, where there is still time before the first phase of polling takes place on 11 February 11. They will have to convince the electorate that the BJP cared for the poorer, the underprivileged and the backward sections of the society. The Modi government has done its job to suitably arm its rank and file with substantive talking points.
Apart from talking about farmers at some other places, full 12 paragraphs have been devoted to schemes related to farmers. Jaitley said the total area that is sown under kharif and rabi seasons is higher than the previous year, thereby negating the notion that the farmers had difficulty in sowing due to demonetisation. He also said that with a better monsoon, agriculture is expected to grow at 4.1 percent in the current year.
It appears that this time around the input given by the party was duly taken into account in the preparation of the budget. A few days ago BJP president Amit Shah talked at length about the virtues of dairy farming and how Uttar Pradesh had missed to cash on this opportunity at a public rally in Uttar Pradesh. He said that Uttar Pradesh and does not have any Amul kind of thing and stressed on the need for going beyond Amul. He promised that if elected the BJP government would put special emphasis on the subject. Now, consider the following as presented in the budget: "Dairy is an important source of additional income for the farmers. Availability of milk processing facility and other infrastructure will benefit the farmers through value addition. A large number of milk processing units set up under the Operation Flood Programme has since become old and obsolete. A Dairy Processing and Infrastructure Development Fund would be set up in NABARD with a corpus of Rs 8,000 crores over three years. Initially, the Fund will start with a corpus of Rs 2,000 crores."
The rural India programmes have been detailed in 14 paragraphs while schemes for the poor and the underprivileged take 11 paragraphs. By increasing allocations under MGNREGA to Rs 48,000 crores for 2017-18 and linking it with productive asset creation, the Modi government has sought to appropriate credit for its reach from UPA. Similarly, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana allocations have been increased by over 30 percent. If the Modi government succeeds in building houses for the rural poor the way it intends to, then it would succeed in giving a long-term social political statement to the needy.
The salaried middle class, which constitutes for over 90 percent of base for direct tax in India was expecting more from the Modi government. They would be little disappointed. Though some relief has been given post-demonetisation, the expectations were far greater.
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Updated Date: Feb 01, 2017 18:45:00 IST