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4 February, 2018 10:46:47 AM

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From India to Bharat

Arun Jaitley often broke into Hindi during the budget speech which was seen as a clear attempt to address the rural population in north India
KUMKUM CHADHA
From India to Bharat

Presenting the Union Budget in Hindi, as it was widely speculated that the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley would, on the first day of February this year, was certainly not a first that the BJP needs to go to town on. There are better firsts that have preceded this one: the more important being advancing the presentation of Union Budget both by way of days and timing.

The other first was doing away with the Railway Budget and merging it with the Union Budget.
It was last year that the BJP government scrapped the tradition of presenting the Union Budget at the end of February, usually on the 28th day, except on leap years when it is presented on February 29.  Morarji Desai, who presented a record number of ten Budgets, presented the budget on February 29 in 1964 and 1970.
Short by one, P Chidambaram has presented the Budget nine times; Yashwant Sinha and Manmohan Singh presented budget five times in a row. Arun Jaitley is the third one to follow. Indira Gandhi was the only woman to have presented the Union Budget in 1970-71 when she, as Prime Minister, also held the Finance portfolio.
The size of the first Union budget was Rs 197 crore  as against the size of the current budget of Rs 21.47 lakh crore.
It was last year that the BJP government took two important decisions: first, merging Railway Budget with the Union Budget and second advancing the Budget presentation from the last day of February to the first day of February.

Interestingly both were colonial practices: the decision to present a separate railway budget was a mandate of the colonial era policy of British government on the basis of report by Acworth Committee. As for the timing, it was in 1860, April 7 to be precise, the then Finance Minister of India James Wilson, under the British rule, presented the first Budget of India at 5 pm in the evening. The practice was started by Sir Basil Blackett in 1924 to provide relief to officials who had worked all night. The timing also worked better for those in Britain given the time difference between the two countries: 5 pm was better suited since Britain would be waking up when India is ready to pack up the day’s work. India is ahead of Great Britain by over 5 hours.

What the finance minister has not followed is doing away with the colonial briefcase except in Britain from where this tradition stems, the Budget briefcase passes from one Finance Minister to another while in India every year the briefcase that holds the budget papers is new even if the Finance Minister carrying it remains the same. Yet all Finance Ministers of post Independent India have not always carried a hardtop brief case: Independent India’s first finance minister,RK Shanmukham Chetty carried a leather portfolio bag;  another Finance Minister T T Krishnamachari carried a file bag. The hardtop, that made its debut in the seventies, has come to stay.

When Jaitley presented his first budget it was expected that he would give a go-by to the briefcase but was advised by officers not to break the tradition. Therefore, even while making significant changes like preponing the Budget or merging the Railway and Union Budget, Jaitley has let the brief case remain. Here, the BJP government  has stuck to the India image. On this count,  the Finance Minister did not opt for change. But on many other things he did. For starters, he often broke into Hindi during the Budget speech that was seen as a clear attempt to address the rural population in north India. There was speculation that Jaitley would deliver his Budget speech in Hindi but he did well by using both Hindi and English. Speaking in Hindi was a kind of a first too and an attempt to address the rural constituency.  

Rural distress has been a matter of great concern for the Modi government. Aware that a course correction is needed, this Budget has focused on the rural sector more than it has in the past. The government has earmarked Rs 2,000 crore fund to be set up for upgrading rural agri-markets; fixing support price of Kharif crops like paddy at least 50 per cent higher than the cost of production, while raising farm credit target for the next fiscal by 10 per cent to Rs 11 lakh crore are some of the sops for farmers in this Budget. The finance minister has also promised  creation of a national market for agricultural commodities, stepped up spending on rural roads and  committed to providing electricity to every village by 2018

The politics is clear. With elections to crucial states due this year and the general elections slated next year, the BJP cannot afford alienation of the rural sector hence a reach out is either now or never. The importance of this can be gauged from the fact that not only did the government make enough provisions in the Budget but also wanted an undiluted  message to reach the stakeholders: in this case the farmer.  And that is why the Finance Minister decided to deliver it in the language that was direct and more importantly one that the farmer understood without translations or interpretation. He decided to shift focus from India, the English speaking elite, and address Bharat: the rural and average Indians.   The BJP is keen to drive home the point that it is a government for the common people and therefore speaks the language that is understood by them. Having said that, Jaitley also addressed Indiaby  promising job creation; encouraging investments; creating an enabling environment; and improving the ease of doing business

The focus shift, however,  is not confined to the Union Budget alone. It has happened in the case of the Padma awards too, when the Government shifted focus from big cities to unsung heroes doing silent work in far flung areas. Even last year, the Modi government  honoured “unsung heroes” with the Padma awards and handpicked people  who had  dedicated their lives to working for the poor or had risen from deprived backgrounds to excel in their respective  fields.

This time around people like Lakshmikutty, a tribal from Kerala, preparing 500 herbal medicine from memory and helping victims of  snake and insect bite,  Arvind Gupta, an IIT Kanpur alumnus who taught science from thrash, Gond artist Bhajju Shyam and West Bengal’s Sudhanshu Biswas, a 99-year-old freedom fighter who has  set up free school for poor are among the awardees.

Some others include Tamil Nadu’s Rajagopalan Vasudevan, popular as plastic road-maker of India, for developing an innovative method to reuse plastic waste to construct roads, West  Bengal’s Subhasini Mistry, a poor lady from rural West Bengal, who toiled as a daily labourer to build a hospital for poor in the state and monk Yeshi Dhoden, a physician of Tibetan herbal medicine working in remote areas of Himachal Pradesh are some others names.

Unlike the Budget that was prepared with an eye on elections, the awards were an attempt to ensure that the skewed emphasis on those who had clout against quiet workers was altered. Till the Modi government there were many instances of influence, clout and pressure being exerted to get people included in the coveted lists. The awards were mired in controversy and often names that figured fell short of the honour. On many occasions people with “connections” rather than merit made it. It goes to the credit of the Modi government that apart from setting this right it has also gone that extra mile to honour those whose work has gone unnoticed outside their own spheres or states. It has also demonstrated its intent  to be more India rather Bharat centric instead of concentrating on those who have a Delhi connect. Therefore, even if RSS model of Hindustan is a far cry, the Modi government’s political journey from India to Bharat has begun.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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