The annual Indian budget remains an old curiosity shop. There is something in it always for everyone — the multitude of voiceless poor, the noisy (Indian) middle class or the high-flying fatcats. But the budget in the penultimate year of an important election ahead also gives political clues to the game plan of the ruling party.
At any rate, this year’s budget presented by Finance Minister P Chidambaram in the Parliament yesterday has been no exception. The salient is that it betrays no hurry to inundate public consciousness with populist measures and, on the contrary, the government strove to convey the impression that it proposes to nonchalantly press the pedal on ‘reforms’, unperturbed by the prospect that some tough decisions might have to be taken while a crucial parliamentary election looms ahead.
To be sure, appearances can be deceptive and beating anti-incumbency is not an easy challenge
. The budget’s accent is on ‘reform’ — reining in fiscal deficit, recapturing the growth story, opening up ever new sectors to foreign investment, cutting back further on subsidies, etc.
How does it add up? Surely, the government and the ruling party are aware that the opposition and the trade unions oppose ‘reforms’ tooth and nail — be it for the sake of ideology or expediency. But consider the following.
The ruling party’s calculus is that the present climate of adversity emanating out of widespread corruption, dysfunctional government, and a disenchanted middle class can be countered by creating a counterpoint in the political discourse to the effect that the economy is ‘turning around’.
But then, the growth story may well remain a fable for a combination of circumstances ranging from the deadlock in the parliament and confrontation on the streets, ever-lengthening litany of scams, sheer burden of the anti-incimbency and the gloomy world economic scenario.
It is a gamble. Of course, at the end of the day, the fine print in the budget lies in the proposed splurge in public spending, which gives scope for announcing populist measures. It underscores the Congress leadership’s resolve not to walk into the sunset just yet. Indeed, it is a gamble with a chance of winning.
Posted in Politics.
– March 1, 2013