Budget 2020

The BJP is high on ‘Budget josh’

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on February 01, 2019 Published on February 01, 2019

Modi and BJP President Amit Shah were preparing for an all-out populist Budget   -  File photo

Party finds its mojo with ‘populist punch’

The interim Budget on Friday, with its dazzling fare for the BJP’s middle India voters and the big outreach to farmers, was just the morale-booster the ruling party required to mount its mega campaign to re-install Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.

Interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal delivered the longest interim Budget speech of 1.42 hours, complete with loud thumping of desks and chants of “Modi, Modi” (following the announcements of an income support scheme for farmers and a full tax rebate on incomes up to ₹5 lakh).

It was the perfect campaign backdrop for the ruling party, and it seemed to have infused fresh energy — or josh, to invoke the buzzword these days — among the Treasury benches.

‘Second surgical strike’

Goyal confessed to having been inspired by the latest Bollywood blockbuster Uri: The Surgical Strike and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad mouthed the film’s catchy war cry “How’s the josh?”. Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan later described the Budget as the “second surgical strike”, the first having “used bullets against the country’s external enemies, while this will use ballots to decimate the NDA’s rivals in the election”.

From background briefings and informal interactions in the past couple of weeks, it was clear that Modi and BJP President Amit Shah were preparing for an all-out populist Budget that would consolidate the ruling party’s traditional voters among the middle class — and effect a mega course correction in respect of farmers, whose discontent is perceived as the catalyst for the Congress’s recent victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

“There will be something big in it for everybody,” a top BJP leader had told BusinessLine last week.

“In the final analysis, there was, for everyone from the common man to cows!

The scale of populism momentarily numbed the Opposition, whose MPs went silent when the two big announcements were made.

Opposition benumbed

The strategy to counter the BJP’s mega campaign pitch would unravel slowly, with former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram providing a glimpse of how it would be articulated in the days to come. “It was not a Vote on Account but an Account for Votes,” said Chidambaram, predicting that big announcements that are not backed by sound economic architecture would confuse voters only for a day.

“The mist will lift in a day,” said Chidambaram.

For the moment, however, Modi seems to have delivered his first knockout punch.

The Opposition will have to do better than terming it as just another “election jumla (stunt)” in the run-up to the general elections.

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Published on February 01, 2019
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