NEW DELHI: A scene agog with expectation interrupted by an unscheduled five-minute break followed by a speech delivered by the minister sitting -- this became an apt metaphor for Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget presentation.
One of the most-awaited Union Budgets of all time, which was expected to give India a leap out of its economic morass, seemed to take a surprise break and then never reached anywhere near the soaring height it was supposed to attain.
Clad in a yellow Modi-jacket, the colour lucky for a Thursday outing, Jaitley clearly chose the middle ground. Not disrupting the old order too much. Just a nudge here, a fillip there to end the economic anxiety, but without upsetting the middle-class who voted Narendra Modi in big numbers or the stake-holders who provided the infrastructure for the impressive victory about a month-and-a-half ago. Instead of the expected radical change in direction and philosophy, what most observers saw was continuity, albeit with a new dressing. No fisc hurting welfare-ism, but a string of `100-crore schemes for modernisation of Madrassas, Young Leadership Programme, Virtual Classrooms, National Centre for Himalayan Studies, Sports University in Manipur, Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojana for tribals, start-up programmes for rural youth, ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojna’, and training sportspersons for Commonwealth and Asian Games.
In the eclectic mix, the 100 crore club includes: Development of Archaeological sites, National Industrial Corridor, Metro projects in Ahmedabad and Lucknow, Agriculture Infrastructure Fund, Development and Beautification of river fronts, Technology Development Fund, War Memorial at Prince’s Park (near India Gate), War Museum, Organic farming in the Northeast and National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change.
There was a change in iconography though. Replacing the over-used Nehru-Gandhi nomenclature, Jaitley ushered in a new pantheon with his Budget: Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Sardar Patel, Madan Mohan Malviya, and lastly the architect of anti-Emergency struggle, Jaya Prakash Narayan. Rural electrification programme worth `500 crore will go by name of Deen Dayal Upadhya, a much-revered ideologue of the Sangh. It’s original icon, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, too gets a government scheme, the Rurban programme, named after him.
Then plucked out of Congress negligence, is Sardar Patel, the unifier of Indian states and the country’s first home minister. He will be given a much larger-than-life statue on the banks of Narmada: `200 crore set aside for that. A promise Prime Minister Modi made to his electorate, while kicking off his campaign.
Madan Mohan Malviya, another forgotten hero from the Congress hall of fame, will also be resurrected in public memory through a teaching programme named after him. Malviya was the founder of Banaras Hindu University. JP whose ‘Sampoorna Kranti andolan’ brought about the first non-Congress government, toppling Indira Gandhi post-Emergency, will be feted with a centre of excellence, to be set up in Madhya Pradesh.
These apart, a `150-crore programme for women’s safety was launched.