With an eye on Election by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (February 13, 2018)


Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam

The NDA’s last budget is a sleight of hand to impress the rural voter in 2019. Urban voters, especially the youth, impressed by BJP’s promise of the moon, had voted wholeheartedly the Narendra Modi-led coalition to power in 2014.

Now, as the curse of GST and note ban has destroyed jobs, fuelled inflation, deeply hurt the small and medium urban business class, the traditional support base of BJP and its former version, Jan Sangh, the urban voter has somehow got a little wary of the party.

The same loss of attraction has occurred among the urban, upwardly mobile, net-savvy youth that supported the anti-Congress movement of Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal and Co., and created enough momentum in the Sangh-inspired movement built on false corruption charges brought against UPA by a less than upright CAG. What has followed since 2014 has deeply disappointed the urban youth.

Now, the BJP effort is to lure the rural voter on whom it has dawned that the party has been particularly kind on big industrialists. The new budget is aimed at making the rural voter feel that the NDA government is falling head over heels to please the farmer.

By the way, farmers have not forgotten that, not long ago, several of them were shot dead in Madhya Pradesh by the police while they were demanding fair price for their produce.

With an eye on the rural vote, Arun Jaitley made impressive-sounding pledges of support price to farmers in the last budget of the present government. Whether the government will really honour its promises is yet to be seen, but one thing is sure: prices of agricultural goods are certainly going to shoot within the coming months and hurt the urban household budget.

That this government is not known to be honouring its promises is clear from the fact that it had promised not to impose new cess and surcharge after GST. This budget has put a “public welfare cess” on customs duty and a Rs 8 cess on per litre of petrol and diesel. Education cess on income tax has been increased by one per cent. This is a clever move to avoid sharing the proceeds with states.

The years of Modi government have been marked by grand announcements of schemes and missions, most of which have miserably failed. However, this does not deter the government from announcing grander schemes every year.

Jaitley solemnly announced “the world’s largest health insurance scheme” in his budget speech, comfortably ignoring the fact that his last two health schemes had already crashed. And, he did not say how he will get the money for it. Depending on states for contribution is futile because they have no resources. By the way, had Jaitley asked for their consent before making such grand announcements?

He has taxed even the long-term capital gains on investment in shares as well as on dividend distribution, practically discouraging investment in share market. So much of taxation is in its own way going to fuel inflation. Wait for essentials being priced beyond your budget.


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