Modi govt unveils electoral budget; shuns populism

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, February 1: With Rs 10 lakh crore, almost one-third of the Budget, for the capital expenditure, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman displayed clarity that it’s the business of the government to kick-start investment and hope for ripple effects on private investments to bring life in an economy which is struggling under global growth stress. Yet, she delivered an electoral budget without falling for populism to help the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) build the poll narrative in elections.

Sitharaman also stayed the course of Modi to get the talking point on critical global agenda such as climate change as she gave a firm push for the energy transition. India aspires to become a net zero carbon emission by 2070, which makes it incumbent to eliminate the use of fossil fuel.

“Electoral Budget essentially means that you have a large number of items in the proposal which addresses quit an enormous number of the beneficiaries. Sitharaman brought in several subjects across the sectors, which appeal to a very large number of the people. This makes it an electoral Budget,” said a senior official in the Modi government.

Sitharaman proposed several measures, which included sops for startups, women and senior citizens, middle income people with tax rejig and so on. “She did not give any scope for freebies. Thus, the Budget is not populist,” he added. Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthpuram Shashi Tharoor was partly appreciative of the Budget, as he said that there are “some good things in the proposal”.

The good thing indeed appears to be the infrastructure push. In the last about nine years, the major focus of the Modi government has been on infrastructure and there appears a drive to complete the last mile projects, including scaling up the facilities in the border areas amid rising tension with China on the line of actual control. Also, India is aiming to take a bigger pie in the global tourism market, which also makes it incumbent upon the government to create infrastructure benchmarked to the global standards.

While Modi has been stressing on Aatmanirbharta in defence, the sector failed to find mention in the one and a half hours long speech of Sitharaman in the Lok sabha on Wednesday. However, the government has already said on several occasions that it would keep scaling up domestic procurement of the defence goods, while also aiming for a $25 billion export.

Sitharaman has armed the BJP with the middle class slogan, but proposals essentially are “dressing down”, as benefits on account of tax slab restructuring will translate into minor gains in the hands of the taxpayers, which would be offset by other costs of the economy.

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