By Amar Tejaswi:
There are mortals and then there are magicians. In a Parliament of mortals, if there is one magician, who can conjure up a ray of hope in an abyss, who can find a straight way out of a labyrinth, it has to be Pranab Mukherjee. But then, in our world, magicians are mere illusionists.
Illusions are admirable pieces of subtle artistry, but through the Union Budget 2011-12, Mr. Mukherjee has proved how tightly he grips the core of illusions. Cynics might call it a useless Budget but I think he has done well to fill a wine bottle with water and sell it to the common man, of course with cash subsidies! No idea where the cash will end up but at least the aam aadmi will get to keep the bottle as a souvenir.
The Finance Minister must be really happy with the reactions to the Budget. Strong rhetoric emerged from the media hailing the Budget; markets rallied on the 1st of March; corporate honchos termed it a satisfactory exercise; God knows what the common man was thinking but who bothers anyway. The good thing for the UPA and the Finance Minister is everyone can see only what he wants them to see. The perfect illusion.
What does one expect from a Budget when there is so much turmoil all around? With the Middle-east uprisings and the ensuing oil crisis, zooming inflation at home, European debt crisis, the environment was quite hostile for the Finance Minister but isn’t that a good situation to present a Budget? Expectations are almost nil and people just want a Budget that’s slightly better than the worst. And so he did.
In his speech on the 28th of February, the Finance Minister claimed that he has spent more and yet the fiscal deficit is down from 5.5 per cent in 2010-11 to 5.1 per cent in 2011-12, although the deficit has actually gone up by Rs. 20,000 crores. Got you in a twist, huh? Noted economist S. Gurumurthy points out that it is due to inflation that the percentage has come down since the nominal GDP has risen from Rs. 69.35 lakh crores to 78.78 lakh crores in 2010-11. The difference of Rs. 9.57 lakh crores is in fact pure inflation; inflation that is hammering the common man. And to compensate for this inflation, the Finance Minister has raised the income eligible for taxation from Rs. 1,60,000 to Rs. 1,80,000. Is it not obvious that people with incomes less than Rs. 3 lakh are the hardest hit? Is it not imperative that he do something for them? Yet, all he does is raise the lowest bar by Rs. 20,000 leaving everything else as it was. Seems more like crude trickery than delicate illusion.
The Great Indian Budget Story is narrated year after year. Governments change, Finance Ministers change, but the Budget remains the same. Year after year, companies’ profits follow an upward trajectory and yet taxes are cut, duties are under-levied. In 2009-10, companies registered an increase of 23.35 per cent in profits, may be more in the following year and yet the stimulus package continues. Apples for the corporates, peanuts for the common man.
It would have been an exercise in futility to have recited the whole Budget again, even its highlights. There are dedicated people to do just that. Something they call ‘public relations’. At the end of the day, the common man doesn’t care who gets the apples, all he hopes for is the peanuts to reach him. But will they? I shudder to think!