In the two-hour-long pre-Budget interaction that Finance Minister P Chidambaram had with his colleagues in the Congress on Thursday, he had a hard time explaining that not all their wishes can be granted in a situation when the economic growth has come down from 6.57 per cent to 5.5. Nonetheless, the FM had to face a long list of wishes.
His party colleagues basically wanted him to roll out a Budget fit for an election year, with sops for the poor and incentives for the middle class. The two areas in which the Congress leaders wanted the FM to give special attention were the housing sector and welfare schemes.
They wanted him to get the RBI to bring down the housing loan rate. They also were keen that personal income tax slab be raised to `3 lakh. However, sources said, Chidambaram told them that there was not much room for populist schemes. But he promised to tweak some of the ongoing schemes. Insiders said the FM was literally pushed to wall with leaders bluntly telling him not to cut expenditures on welfare schemes in the name of fiscal discipline.
Since this is going to be the last full-fledged Budget before the Lok Sabha elections, he faced a volley of requests on what he can provide for social security and agriculture to address the imbalance between the haves and have-nots. Most of the high-profile AICC general secretaries were not present, leaving him to interact mostly with secretaries and heads of various cells.