NEW DELHI: For once, the Opposition was floored in Parliament. As minister Piyush Goyal read out the budget speech, the entire house sat in attention – and in anticipation of what was about to come. No one however expected a virtual theatrics of the sort the Modi government had come up with. The budget is widely seen as a populist one. 

Instead of presenting a vote on account for short term, or an interim budget, the government made bold to present a full-fledged budget, though it has only four more months in office before next Lok Sabha polls are held in end April or beginning of May. Baffled, the Opposition said this looked like a BJP manifesto for the next polls, and not a budget presentation.

In the process, it looked like the government, in one swift go, virtually took the wind out of the Opposition sails — amid the newfound optimism in the Congress camp following the party’s win in three Hindi belt state assembly polls and opinion polls saying the BJP will not win more than one-third of the parliament seats in the coming polls. 

While the minister started reeling out details of the pension scheme for the unorganised labour, there was stunned silence on the Opposition benches, and thumbing of desks and cheering from the treasury benches. The government virtually outwitted the Opposition by announcing a Rs 3,000 monthly pension for over 10crore of the unorganised labour – like farm workers, street vendors, carpenters, masons and the like.

Then came the announcement about doles for farmers – Rs 6,000 a year, to be distributed in three or four instalments to low and medium level farmers who require assistance – big farmers are already getting free electricity etc. The new dole would benefit, Goyal said, as high as 12crore farmers across the nation.

The Opposition was virtually stunned at the way the government came up with such smart announcements.

It would appear that Prime Minister Modi took a major risk, and decided to walk a few steps ahead of Rahul Gandhi, leader of the “rejuvenated” Congress party after the five-state assembly polls. After the poll victory in three Hindi belt states, the Congress had announced farm loan waiver decision in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This had put the BJP on the defensive across the nation.  To add to this, Rahul Gandhi announced two days ago that he would come up with a scheme to regularly put money for free into the bank accounts of BPL families if the Congress was voted to power.

Friday however was a day for retreat for the Congress. Rahul Gandhi himself sat watching the budget speech of Goyal with his left-hand palm firmly supporting his face that was positioned in a convulsed state. There was no smile on his face on Friday. 

Prime Minister Modi was prominently seen thumbing the desks every time a welfare scheme was announced, or when the decision to raise the income tax ceiling to Rs five lakh from Rs 2.5lakh was revealed. There was wide thumbing of desks and cheers from the treasury benches when this particular decision that would benefit the salaried classes was announced.

Rahul Gandhi later held a media conference in which he had very little words to say against the budget. With a glum face, he said the government’s offer of Rs 14 per day to farmers – totalling Rs 6000 a year – was an insult to them, who were at the receiving end of the Modi rule in the past five years. 

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said the tax relief and sops to farmers and the unorganised labour would have an impact on the polls — meaning this could help the BJP. The budget specifically sent out the right signals to the middle class, the farmers and the rural sector. 

Several prominent Congress parliamentarians ducked media personnel when they walked out of the hall. P Chidambaram, former finance minister, pooh-poohed the budget proposals, saying “this is not a vote on account, but an account for votes.” He said the Modi government, by coming up with an all-please budget further worsened the fiscal stability of the country.

Chidambaram said the government was having no hope of returning to power, so it acted in a reckless manner by announcing unimplementable schemes.
The way open to the Congress, though, is to grin and bear with it. By chance if the Congress grabs power in Delhi again, it would be incumbent on it to implement these promises. If it back-tracks, which is perhaps the only way considering the huge financial burden involved, it would earn a bad name for not implementing what Modi had promised.

BJP parliamentarians, on the other hand, were euphoric as they trooped out of the hall. Between them, they were all praise for their PM, Modiji, as here now is a slight chance of them winning the next elections. Till the other day, they were cursing their fate in the coming polls.

This, however, is not to surmise that people would buy the olive branch held out to them by Modi after a season of disgust. –IHN-NN

INDIA HERE AND NOW http://www.indiahereandnow.com email:indianow999@gmail.com

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