It’s been almost two weeks since Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the vote-on-account in Parliament, which largely received positive comment — from the media, industry lobbies, and independent economists.
As the government indicated, and the name suggests, it was just a vote-on-account, shorn of any ‘big bang’ announcement with an eye on the upcoming general election this year.
Even though this was just an interim Budget, the media — both print and electronic — gave saturation coverage to it. But Budgets in India — interim or otherwise — have always attracted much media attention keeping the commentariat busy. Commentators and analysts spend a lot of time ‘looking at the fineprint’ — both at the numbers and the political messaging in the Budgets.
Loaded with agendas
This again is hardly surprising as Indian Budgets have hardly ever been a simple statement of government accounts. Budgets have always been loaded with economic and political agendas — laying roadmaps for economic policymaking in the near and long term.
This absence of any ‘goodies’, or ‘freebies’ in this interim Budget is being read as an indication of the BJP-led government’s confidence in winning the Lok Sabha elections and returning to power for a third successive term. The contrast is made between this interim Budget and the one in February 2019, when the government announced the PM Kisan Yojana ostensibly to woo the farming community.
But this raises some uncomfortable questions about Indian polity, especially the commentariat’s use of terms such as ‘voter bribing’. Indian politics has also been acquiring a ‘transactional’ nature over the last two or so decades, where people demand something concrete in return for their vote.
Much ink has been split on distinguishing a ‘freebie’ from a genuine ‘welfare measure’. But this transactional model may also be a sign of our cynicism — both of the people and the political class — over our political system, where larger issues of rights and citizenship are ignored.
Maybe it’s time we evolved a new intellectual apparatus to understand the complex interplay between economics, politics and citizenship.