Presenting the Budget on February 1 won’t hurt the government’s credibility.
Opposition’s claims are fallacious
The anti-BJP parties are bent on making a spectacle of themselves, now by demanding a postponement of the Budget, fearing that it will influence voters in the five state Assembly elections. Why does the Opposition presume that the Budget will be populist and will sway voters in the states going to the polls, when they have so far been insisting that the demonetisation has failed and that it has created unprecedented misery for the people across the country?
It is not that the government sprang a surprise by deciding to present the Budget on February 1. This was known to the whole country for over six months. The idea was mooted first by the Niti Aayog. The government accepted it many months ago. Pre-Budget discussions started early enough, since the government announced its decision for an early Budget months before the poll dates were scheduled by the Election Commission. Then nobody objected to the new date. Now the Opposition, after they found that their effort to mobilise public support against the currency ban was not working, is claiming that the Budget will adversely affect their prospects. There cannot be a more ridiculous argument than saying an early Budget will affect the credibility and sanctity of the exercise.
Let’s examine how fallacious this claim is. Last year we did not hear such a demand from the Opposition. The Budget was presented as usual on February 28. Immediately Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam, West Bengal and Puducherry went to the polls in April. Did the Budget sway the voter in favour of the ruling party? Why didn’t the Opposition then make a hue and cry? In fact, it has now become passé for the country to face state elections during or after the Budget Session of Parliament.
The Congress, which is making such wild allegations, was too eager to present a full Budget in 2014 when it was going to face the Lok Sabha polls. Then the ruling UPA pooh-poohed all objections and concerns of the parties then on the other side. The real worry actually is that the NDA government, after its successful fight against black money and fake currencies, is well equipped to revolutionise the financial sector and kickstart an era of sweeping pro-poor initiatives.
Essentially growth is the function of just one factor — capital. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has released the most potential growth multiplier in a record-breaking 50 days of note ban by attracting over Rs 13 lakh crores into the public view that was largely hoarded for decades by corrupt money sharks. This has enriched the national treasury by about Rs 4 lakh crores, reduced lending rates, brought down inflation and the prices of essential goods and will eventually help recapitalise the banks, which will help them release easier loans for accelerating investment and propelling public consumption.
By the end of February, 89 per cent of the currency will be back in circulation. There has been three-fold increase in digital transactions. The rabi growing has seen an all-time high of 11 per cent more. The so-called rural distress has actually turned out to be agrarian boom and rural prosperity. All opinion polls have shown a big thumbs-up for the war on black money.
The Budget is an occasion for the government to clearly state to the nation the actual financial condition and draw a roadmap for the future. The Opposition, bent on confusing and obfuscating facts, wants to deny this opportunity to the government.
(Dr R. Balashankar is a member of the BJP central committee on training, and the committee on publications)
There’s no economic rationale
The problem with this government is that it has assumed it is answerable to nobody and it can do whatever it likes. Now there is no economic rationale which has been given to anybody about advancing the Budget dates. One would have understood had the government held widespread consultations on this issue. Incidentally, that did not happen, as the government has scant respect for Parliament. There are certain norms and practices which every government follows, but this government is blatantly violating them and vitiating the political atmosphere of the country.
We in the Congress have vehemently opposed the advancing of the Budget date. Our reasoning was very simple that five important Assembly elections are going to take place. In fact two important states go to the polls just three days after the Budget. Is this ethical? If the government announces major policy announcements it certainly tantamount to influencing the voters who otherwise would have had made up their minds on voting. It is only the ruling party which can present the Budget, so where is the level playing field then?
In 2012, when the UPA was in power, we did not present the Budget before the elections. Then also five states — Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab — were also going to the polls. Ironically, it was the same BJP, which is in power now, that did not want the Budget to be presented before the polls and we conceded on that point. There was no law which prohibited us from doing so, it was just the right thing to do for us.
The government’s credibility will be completely destroyed if it goes ahead with this reckless attitude. You are using the state machinery to achieve your own political goals. We have also complained to the Election Commission of India regarding photographs of the Prime Minister in most of the petrol pumps in states going to the polls. When the photographs of the chief ministers of the states going to the polls is not being allowed to be put up on government hoardings, then how can the Prime Minister’s photographs be pasted all across. After all, the Election Commission took remedial actions and issued directive to the chief electoral officer to have these hoardings covered. This blatant misuse of government funds cannot be allowed.
Now it is no secret why the government wants to advance the Budget before polling. The fact is that demonetisation has been a complete disaster. Lines are still present outside banks and ATMs. There is a serious cash crunch, which is being faced by farmers and poor people of this country. The Prime Minister had promised us that after 50 days things will get normal, but things are anything but normal. The cap on withdrawal on our money still exists. I can go on and on about the condition of the economy and the total loss which has been heaped upon farmers, labourers, small business and traders. Just to attract attention, away government is planning sops, which it will announce in the Budget. Since the Budget is just three days before polling, the government is hoping to draw electoral benefits. This is an unethical ploy being adopted by the government, which will hit its credibility. The people of this country can see through the design of this government.
If advancing the Budget was such a noble idea why did the government not think about it earlier? Why start it only in the year where there are five Assembly elections pending? These are pertinent questions which the government should answer.
Ashish Dua is a Congress media coordinator-cum-panelist