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BJP’s popularity on the decline

Usually, in the election year, the government does not go beyond a vote on account which is very different from the interim budget
Staff Correspondent
BJP’s popularity on the decline

Known for seizing the moment and turning adversity into advantage, the ruling BJP is on a high following the presentation of its had its sixth and last budget of this government’s term.  On the back foot after a poor showing in the state elections recently, the BJP badly needed a face-saver which has now come in the form of a populist Budget. It may be a bit late in the day considering the elections are less than three months away; both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP’s popularity is on the decline given that the people feel let-down with the tall promises that were made in 2014 but not fulfilled.
It would be incorrect to say that nothing has been done: as it would be to say that the people’s aspirations were met.

It is somewhere between the two. There are some things that happened and a lot that did not. The government did kind of surgical strikes to set right wrongs both domestically and across the border but that was not enough: more was needed and the farmers distress, rising prices, unemployment and ire of the youth took its toll. The same BJP that rode to power in 2014 was on the downslide and its losses in recent elections were enough proof that damage control was needed.
The budget presented on Friday was a shot in the arm: a manna from the heavens.  It promised the moon and dangled a hope that if voted back, good days which failed the electorate last time around would be a reality in its second term.

 Of course the Budget has not been without its share of controversy beginning with whether a government can in an election year present a budget. Convention demands that a government asks for a vote on account but this is a merely a norm rather than a rule.  

Usually, in the election year, the government does not go beyond a vote on account which is very different from the interim budget. While a 'Vote on Account' deals only with the expenditure side of the government's budget, an Interim Budget is a complete set of accounts, including both expenditure and receipts. An Interim Budget gives the complete financial statement, very similar to a full Budget. While the law does not debar the Union government from introducing tax changes, normally during an election year, successive governments have avoided making any major changes in income tax laws during an Interim Budget.

 The Opposition has been raising a hue and cry over the government’s intention to present a full fledged budget. It was at an all party meeting that a Union minister said that there is nothing called an interim Budget or Vote on account making the government’s intention of presenting a full fledged budget absolutely clear. Records, however, defy this assertion because governments in the past have sought a vote on account; and  the first interim budget was presented by R.K.Shanmukham Chetty for 1948-49.  

The BJP, on its part, has created a few records as far as the timing of the  Budget is concerned: it reversed the British practice of the Budget being presented at 5 pm and on the last day of February to advancing it to the first and also at 11 am. The budget was first introduced in India on April 7, 1860 and it was in 1924 that precedent of the 5 pm speech was set. Till 1999, the Union Budget was presented at 5 pm: a practice that was inherited from the colonial era. It was Yashwant Sinha, then Union Finance Minister in the BJP led NDA government who advanced the time to 11 am though keeping the date unchanged. It was in 2017 that Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did away with the convention  of presenting the Budget on the last day of February and brought it forward to the first day. Also the Rail Budget which for over 92 years was presented separately merged with the Union Budget: both a welcome move.

 What remained unchanged was the customary halwaceremony and the new brief case. The printing of the Budget starts a week before being presented in Parliament. On the occasion, halwa,is prepared in large quantities and served to the officers and support staff. The Finance minister too partakes it: an Indian tradition of having something sweet before starting an important work.  Every year the Finance Minister is presented with a new brief case to carry the Budget papers and also given a choice of colours: between a black and a brown.  

There was another record of sorts that was created and that of an interim Finance Minister presenting the Budget. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley being indisposed and out of action necessitated his colleague Piyush Goyal to present the Budget. Had Arun Jaitley presented this year’s budget he would have bettered Yashwant Sinha’s record by one. Jaitley has since 2014 presented five budgets in a row, like Sinha had done earlier: had it not been for his illness, this would this would have been his sixth in a row.  

Instead this became Goyal’s first: and being articulate he did a good job. The content of the Budget brought the smile back: it was like a shot in the arm for sagging spirit of the BJP MPs who were unsure of the party’s fortunes in the forthcoming elections. The Budget seems to have changed that. For one it was a report card for four years and Goyal made it a point to hammer all the positives: from being the eleventh largest economy in the world during 2013-14, India is now the sixth largest; listing the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, reservation for EWS, the clamping down on loan practices that caused NPAs to balloon and the success of the IBC, the liberalisation of FDI norms, the GST, the increase in direct tax collections and the tax base, successes in rural electrification and road building, success of the Ayushman Bharat healthcare scheme, etc.

The game changing announcements included 6000 rupees per year for farmers with less than 2 hectares holding; increasing the MSP by 1.5 times the production costs; individual taxpayers having annual income upto Rs 5 lakhs to get  full tax rebate; .Standard tax deduction for salaried persons raised from 40,000 rupees to 50,000 rupees; Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandhan, to provide assured monthly pension of 3000 rupees per month;India's defence budget would be reaching its highest ever figure, crossing Rs 3,00,000 crore for the first time among others.

The politics of it all cannot be lost; nor can the fact that this budget is more political and less an economic statement: it is one with an eye on votes to put in simply and to lessen the discontent over depressed farm incomes and doubts over whether the policies are creating enough jobs.

That the mood was upbeat was clear from the way the BJP  applauded the Budget. Prime Minister Modi was seen thumping his desk several times. Irrespective of what actually happens on the ground the fact is that the first round in this budget goes to the BJP which through the sops it has given repaired its sagging image. Credence is lent to this by the new post budget slogan that was instantly coined after Goyal’s Budget speech viz: “- 'Abki Baar 400 ke Paar'indicating that the BJP will now better its existing tally of 282 seats and cross the 400-mark.

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

SHK

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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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