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It's that time of the year…

Updated on: Feb 10, 2011

It's like being at the other end when Sehwag is batting, that is the fate of Valentine's Day and the Union Budget, this year. With a broad spectrum of themes still at play, here comes the Cricket World Cup, to crowd out the two annual events from mind and media.

Valentine's Day may at best creep in and crawl out, sans the clash of colours — orange versus pink — we saw last year. A fortnight from then and without the usual brouhaha, it will be Budget Day — and deja vu time once again.

Both the days are for making promises that can just as easily be made on any other day of the year. But, why would the eyeball boys and the stalls-in-the-malls let go some extra moolah in the shortest of months? The heyday of Valentine valour predates the birth of mobile phones and Internet. There was a time not long ago when most houses didn't have telephones. There was no remote messaging, only direct delivery. Even the chits inserted in notebooks had to be physically delivered, with good chances of wrong delivery and getting caught.

Losing its unpredictability

Similarly, there was a time when India's FMs had the power to shock and shake the nation with the Union Budget. Incredible and forgotten, but cruel and true, in the 1970s, one FM had jacked up peak income-tax rates to more than 90 per cent! Now, that was power to torture, with the approval of Parliament.

The best thing about the Budget, those days, came after Budget Day. The high point of the budget, if one lived in what was then called Bombay, was, when one found a foothold among the multitudes in Brabourne Stadium, to listen to Nani Palkhivala.

Whether one understood everything he said or not, his oratory was inspiring and his sincerity evident. He was the last word on the Budget — not the FM, not the Finance Secretary. Today, after two decades of liberalisation, the Budget has lost its unpredictability, and the FMs, their ability to shock. Holding up the briefcase containing the ‘secret' documents is only a fallacious concession to tradition — and, more pertinently, a photo opportunity for the media.

Once the suspense about the Parliament session actually happening ends, then everything, right from the briefcase scene, is predictable. The FM would have to repeat “Madam Speaker” on several occasions, to be heard above the opposition's collective vocal chords. The Speaker of the day would point to the cameras rolling and admonish.” Remember, the whole nation is watching”, a la mothers pointing to bystanders to quieten rebellious children. What is not known is, with a stockpile of protest placards already with them, which ones the opposition will choose to flash.

Lost opportunity

The left, right and centre will mourn the Budget as a lost opportunity and a sell-out to imperialism. This consensus among the ideological opposites is reminiscent of how the leftists and the liberals concur with religious fundamentalists of more than one colour that celebration of Valentine's Day would contaminate the centuries-old Indian culture with the promiscuity of the West.

In between all this, the budget outlay for every sector would seem to be increasing, some from Rs 2,500 crore to Rs 2, 750 crore, up 10 per cent. Amidst desk thumping by treasury benches, hundreds of crore will be earmarked for new initiatives abbreviated in a bundle of alphabets with too few vowels to be pronounceable.

Unless you are that kind of person dabbling in that kind of money, what can you understand about these sums in double-digit digits? Thank God that soon after, and much before the devil in the details appear in subsequent days, you don't have to turn up in your Sunday best at the makeshift TV studios to award marks out of 10, like in gymnastic contests!

Published on February 11, 2011

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