New Delhi Rhetoric

The Budget Busy Buzz

Pradosh Nath

Rightly the political carnival called budget should be the chosen topic for the New Delhi Rhetoric. The ritual of presenting budget and following discussions make our politicians, left, right, middle alike, to go back to the dictionary for choicest words either to applaud or to dismiss. And mostly the rhetoric is around how pro poor or anti poor the budget is. The party in power has to applaud the budget as pro poor and focussed on economic progress, whereas parties in opposition have to dismiss it as anti poor and anti progress. I exactly do not remember how many budgets old are we? I could have found out through Google search, but then I thought 'How does it matter?'

Is budget a very important document for understanding an economy like India's? How does a few percentage changes in taxes or duties, here and there, matter, or a few more crores of rupees allocations for purported benefits of farmers, or for that matter defence? These allocations anyways have to find their ways to the agents, contractors, or/and middlemen, who are more desh-bhakts than the beef eatinglesser mortals. The cut-money culture is an age-old practice across the country. While the India on government documents is moving towards 100% ODF, the reality might be shockingly different. From the windows of a hotel near railway lines in the devasthanam of Tirupati, the usual morning sight is the line of bare buttocks on both sides of the railway lines.

I remember, one of the earlier budgets of the earlier regime had proposed reducing taxes on washing machines. A very renowned left parliamentarian on his critical observations argued that such a move would make maidservants jobless, and therefore, the budget was regressive for the poor. The problem is that the observation is too naïve to be untrue.

We hear about great leftist orators, mostly Oxbridge types, making lasting impressions in the earlier parliaments. We know that many of them were actually part of ruling elites and were more comfortable there than with the street fighters comrades. They, however, perfected the art of appearing to be firebrand with verbose that makes them adorable to all and sundry. The present heirs of them, however, are bereft of the skill, and crude in their effort of 'walking on two legs'; legs footed in two boats. And they make themselves more of laughing stocks than as close comrades in arms leading the toiling masses through the path of emancipation from the clutches of exploitation.

Some of the figures on allocations and disbursement in the budget would be having too many digits to make any sense to lesser mortals. What does a $3 trillion economy mean? And Rs 77725 crores for rural India focussed PM-KISAN Programme? Note that seven zeros concealed in 'crores' make it just readable. During the period of demonetisation I was visiting a rural area of the Nadia district of West Bengal. As a left minded concerned soul, I tried to investigate the suffering of the ordinary poor villagers. Most of them did not have any demonetised notes in their possessions. They did not have to be in the long queue for changing the banned notes. The general perceptions were that only rich people would be having many such notes. And by rich people they mean those who are in government jobs. Ambanis are at a few light years distance from them. They were not too unhappy that the rich people would learn a lesson. So we know what the trillion dollar economy means for them.

The budget exercise, however, is not entirely Sisyphean. A media bite opportunity for politicians of all shades and colours for shedding tears for the poor. This is the time poor and underprivileged people get mentioned in every documents and deliberations. Salaried class looks for income tax benefits on the budget. The budgetary allocations, however, are very important for contractors, agents, and middlemen. They probably constitute the astute sections of the citizenry who need the budget most.

In her maiden budget speech, the FM said that the first fifty years after independence our emphasis was on 'right'; now we should place our emphasis on 'duties'. The FM was of course referring to the rights and duties of the citizens of this country. Are the rights of the citizens fully ensured? The question begs answer amidst reported incidents of rampant violation of rights. And many of these violations go unpunished and un-reprimanded. Interesting distinction is that the citizens have to assert for their rights; whereas the state has to assert for ensuring duties of the citizens. Does this distinction spell any premonition!!

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Vol. 52, No. 3, Jul 21 - 27, 2019