B S Raghavan

Presenting Budget in a troublous setting

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on February 11, 2011

The circumstances in which the Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, will be presenting the Budget this year are unlike any in the period since Independence. There had never been an occasion in the past when the credibility of the ruling dispensations at the Centre and in the States had hit the rock bottom.

Never before had the nation confronted an ironical situation when a Prime Minister, believed to be honest himself, had put together, and been presiding over, what is widely perceived to be the most corrupt Government ever. Not one section of the vast and sprawling polity has been left untarnished: Ministers, politicians, bureaucrats, legislators, judges, scientists, journalists — all are getting tarred with the same brush.

It is not just a matter of a cascading of scams, each more shocking and more astronomical, than the previous one, dwarfing the worst ones of the yesteryear, blowing up on the people's face with sickening regularity; the trauma caused to the people's psyche by the daylight murder of public morality had been made more excruciatingly painful by the audacious defiance of public opinion by the leading lights of whatever political party are caught with their hands in the till.

unsavoury interpretations

The politicians' pernicious habits seem to have found willing, and indeed, gleeful, takers among the different categories and echelons of bureaucracy as well, with whom a modicum of shame and sensitivity was hitherto associated; they have begun to parrot identical excuses in identical phrases for justifying their own depredations.

What makes it all worse is the stony silence of the Prime Minister lending itself to a variety of unsavoury interpretations.

They range all the way from the charitable one of his being timorous, helpless or clueless to the perturbing one of his connivance, collusion or culpability.

For instance, throughout the period of two years or more when the foul stink of 2G spectrum was pervading the polity, he took no steps to clear the air by taking the people and Parliament into confidence.

Now, with the S-Band deal of ISRO, the Everest of all scams touching two lakh crore rupees, hitting the fan, one thought that, with the infected department being directly under his charge, the Prime Minister will hold himself to account and place a self-contained report before the people.

Instead, the PMO has contented itself with a curt and cursory statement.

Mystifying silence

There are swirling whirlpools of imputations and accusations in blogospheres and Web sites, naming names from Ms Sonia Gandhi downwards, and mentioning specific amounts of huge proportions having been spirited away to the nation's detriment. Dr Subramanian Swamy had been making open statements and writing letters to the Prime Ministers (which are being circulated by newsgroups all over the world) specifying the precise manner in which the spoils have been shared.

At least, the Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi, has issued a notice to Mr Swamy; all the rest are playing possum as if they do not care about the damage done to their reputation; thereby, they are giving room for the impression that they have no convincing reply.

This is the setting in which the Finance Minister will “rise' to present his Budget. His most intractable challenge will be, not revenue or fiscal deficit, but the unprecedented drag of the trust-deficit.

He has laid his own uprightness on the line by his mealy-mouthed defence of the Government's failure to unearth and bring back black money stashed abroad, knowing full well that it could go a long way to lessen the debt burden, plug the fiscal and revenue deficits and help accelerate economic growth by increased allocations to vital sectors.

Can he in good conscience lecture on tax compliance, accountability, transparency, prudential norms, control over public expenditure, mobilisation and optimum utilisation of resources, avoidance of profligacy and the like when all around him there is such utter contempt for propriety and probity leading to lakhs of crores of rupees being brazenly gobbled up in corrupt deals and Swiss bank accounts?

Published on February 11, 2011

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