NEW DELHI: Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley appears to have made a valiant attempt to arm the ruling BJP with an electoral script for rural India. With rural Gujarat in December delivering a rude jolt to the BJP, half of Jaitley’s Union Budget speech remained focussed on farmers, rural people and the poor, as he reeled out promises to usher in better days for the hoi polloi.
As the spectre of unemployment had seemingly demonstrated its electoral might in the just-concluded Gujarat elections, the budget sought to give relaxations to the medium and small sector industries in tax, besides agricultural marketing cooperatives, in order to spur jobs. By evening, accolades and barbs flowed in from within the BJP ranks and from the Opposition, for Jaitley and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
BJP patriarch L K Advani stated, “I cannot recall any Union Budget in the past which set such high goals, targets and commitments for the growth of all sectors of the economy and also for securing people’s welfare.”
Jaitley’s predecessor and Congress leader P Chidambaram termed the budget’s showpiece healthcare proposal, which aims to cover 50 crore people with `5 lakh coverage, as a big “jumla”.
However, BJP chief Amit Shah stated that the “Union Budget gives new wings to the aspirations of the poor”.
While the PM thanked Jaitley for allaying the fears of farmers, there were murmurs of protests from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS)- affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS). BMS general secretary Vrijesh Upadhyay vowed to launch a nationwide agitation against the fact that the budget had ignored the interests of workers. Another affiliate, Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s (SJM) co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan cautioned the government against handing over implementation of health insurance plan to MNCs.
Meanwhile, describing budget as “high on promises and low on specifics’’, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said he was not surprised that it was more a political exercise, given that it’s the last full budgeting exercise before the 2019 general election.
Without getting into any lengthy analysis of the budgetary provisions — which his party, the Congress, left to former finance minister P Chidambaram to do — Singh said he was not sure if farm distress – “the real problem area today” – was adequately addressed.
Despite Jaitley spending a conspicuous amount of time on MSPs and such issues, Manmohan Singh said he was worried that an actual procurement plan was not spelled out. How would a 50 per cent increase in MSP be implemented? On that “we are not left any wiser,’’ the former PM added.