If Budget Could Win Elections, UPA Would Have Ruled Forever
Piyush Goyal’s Budget is unlikely to redeem this regime from voter-retribution, writes Abheek Barman.
The only rule in a TV slugfest in the post-Twitter era is this: On cue, blurt out something, anything, knocking around in the brainpan right now. It’s irrelevant if, during the ad-break, you’ve drifted off wondering what monkeys eat for lunch, or the future of India’s economy.
Luckily today, both converged to a unique, pathetic average. Contrary to norms of civilised administration, which say a government headed for elections can’t promise to extract and spend if it’s kicked out, Narendra Modi’s government whirled around Sansad Marg, the home of Parliament, blowing budgetary bubbles in the air.
A suddenly-clean shaven Piyush Goyal, who holds ‘additional charge’ of finance, in the absence of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, now ‘minister without portfolio,’ delivered a bewildering hodgepodge, meant to keep India’s mythical ‘middle class’ in hock, while trying to be farmer-friendly.
I do the same thing every morning after breakfast, chucking crumbs from toast to hungry crows. Some crumbs even have bits of marmalade stuck to them.
‘UPA Had Far Brighter Minds Writing Policy’
Barkha Dutt, a gentle inquisitor by current standards, asked on a six-day old TV channel, “How will this budget, clearly targeted for polls, influence elections in three months?”
Missing not one beat, I replied, “The UPA had far brighter minds writing policy, so if budgets could win elections, UPA would have ruled forever.”
So for all Modi’s data-fudgery, social-media bhakti and Goyal’s cute facial, this Budget – or any other – is unlikely to redeem this regime from voter-retribution.
The middle class is supposed to be ecstatic because income tax breaks have been doubled from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh every year.
This ‘middle class’ is a unicorn which chooses to vacation in Lonavala on polling days, which happily occur just before weekends. Sure, they’ll take the tax break, thanks Piyush, see you at the post-poll victory bash.
Why Farmers Are Fuming
Farmers are fuming because crop prices have collapsed, inputs like fertiliser, supposed to be cheap have actually got dearer, Jan Dhan accounts where the government is supposed to deposit cash ‘direct’ to them are inaccessible and the NREGA scheme that helped hike farm wages has been wrecked by Modi.
No worry, each farmer with two hectares, or five acres of land, will get a free gift of Rs 6,000 every year. This is Rs 500 per month, for the average household of five, which means Rs 100 per mouth each month or Rs 3.30 per person per day. Modi apologists say this is better than nothing.
Really? The NREGA scheme of the UPA that Narendrabhai gutted, promised 100 days of work at minimum wage, averaging Rs 350 per day across states, to every poor person who wanted it. That added up to Rs 35,000 for every distressed adult every year. A household with two working members made Rs 70,000 every year under this scheme.
What Modi now offers is less than 9 percent of that. How’s that to keep farmers tap-dancing in joy?
‘Expect Smart Money to Scamper Out Faster’
Of course, investors worldwide, thoroughly rattled by India’s slide into data-lying will look to one big number. They will hope, hand to heart, that this is not as fictitious as any other number coming out of this administration. That is the figure for the fiscal deficit – the excess of what government spends over what it rakes in as revenue, the gap funded by borrowing.
This deficit, projected at 3.4 percent of the GDP for the next fiscal, is way more than the 3.1 percent or less number bandied about by Modi’s economics apostles.
Expect smart money, which has left India in droves during Modi-raj, to scamper out faster over the next three months. It is likely on Budget day, state-owned insurers and financial institutions propped up markets.
Pitted against overwhelming global pessimism about Modi-sarkar, they will retreat and markets will crash.
Out of the TV studio in early evening Noida smog, I remembered monkeys, proverbially, love peanuts for lunch. The economy does not. What a pity for moomphalli-sellers like Modi.
(The author is a senior Delhi-based journalist. He tweets at @AbheekBarman. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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