Budget 2021

Budget 2020: A 2 hour, 40 minute speech that tired all, including the FM

Richa Mishra New Delhi | Updated on February 01, 2020

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents the Union Budget 2020-21 in the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. (LSTV/PTI Photo)   -  PTI

It was a Budget speech that was far too long, exhausting everyone including the one who delivered it. Clad in a mustard saree, keeping with the basant season, Nirmala Sitharaman set out to present her second Budget, and the first of the new decade, which may end up being among the longest ever Budget speeches.

The speech lasted 2 hours, 40 minutes and some seconds; Part A alone came up to 1:59 hours. It was not just the Opposition that was restless — those on the treasury benches also got impatient, and comments like “Aap kal kar dijiyega (you can continue tomorrow)” were heard.

“When you all meet her (Sitharaman), please tell her, not to give such a long speech,” said a senior Opposition leader.

In fact, towards the end of Part B of the speech — with five-odd pages still left — Sitharaman herself was exhausted. Addressing the Chair, she asked if she could lay the paper without completing the speech.

Remembering Jaitley

What piqued interest this time was that Sitharaman, while speaking about structural reforms, acknowledged the contribution of former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. In her previous Budget speech, her silence on her deceased predecessor had been conspicuous.

Today, she referred to yet another deceased leader. “A former Prime Minister had once voiced concern that the fruits of the welfare schemes were not reaching the intended citizens — the common and deserving citizen was only receiving 15 paisa of every rupee spent for him,” she said without naming the PM. Congress members in the House was quick to prompt: “Rajiv Gandhi!”

The speech also had some politically correct mentions, like a poem by Pandit Dinanath Koul in Kashmiri. No sooner did she finish reciting it, comments flew in from the Opposition benches. “Sab toh jail mein hain…(all are under arrest),” said some, hinting at the eminent leaders of Kashmir being held under detention.

Despite her best attempts not to be repetitive, Sitharaman did repeat herself a few times. The Opposition asked to be spared. In fact, When Part A of the speech seemed to be taking its time, the Opposition requested her to please get to the core part of the Budget.

Colleagues cheer

The applauses came mostly from her party colleagues, leading to a senior Opposition leader commenting, “The ministers of the respective ministries whose proposals were announced were the ones thumping the desks.”

Questions were raised when Sitharaman said: “The guilds of Saraswati-Sindhu civilisation and the Harappan seals are remarkable...Words from the Indus script hieroglyphs have been deciphered. Commerce- and trade-related words show how India for a millennium is continuing with its rich (heritage) in skills, metallurgy, trade etc.” The Opposition benches wanted to know the source; some wondered why the Budget was getting a Hindutava touch.

Unlike the last time, she did talk about fiscal deficit and other proposals this time round. While her speech also had the right tadaka of celebrated Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar and classical Sanskrit writer Kalidasa, the reactions to these were far and few.

Published on February 01, 2020

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