-By SANJAY JHA
You have to just look a few centimeters above your regular vision when driving down , and you will see a galaxy of smart-suited oddballs interspersed with a few women in Prada-like executive dressing standing in a well choreographed semi-circle , looking down at you with the cocky condescension of experts who think they can predict the future. The big billboards have all been monopolized by urban corporate types distinctly uncomfortable in their studio attire. This is not a sophisticated soap opera in English, this is the promotional spree of our annual commercial circus; the budget.
The annual budget has become a profitable “ event management concept” especially for business channels and pink dailies. Sure, a budget day is somewhat special, but the frenzy that is created is not in sync with the urgency of the issues at hand. A government essentially lays down it’s long-term plans, and the budget is just an annual operating plan to review the financial implications of the capital and revenue earnings and expenses, and the surplus/deficit that it is likely to accrue. What is the big deal about it?
In the olden days with oppressive government and bureaucratic control, every step of liberalization or concession was indeed a headline item. But over the last 10 years, things have changed quite dramatically. Taxation, which draws maximum attention, has indeed already become indexed to international levels on both personal and corporate sides, besides the introduction of VAT. Of course, there is always need for simplification of norms, less paper-work, greater transparency , and additional reforms. Everyone is keen to see greater investment in education, health and infrastructure, besides rural development and employment schemes. But I wonder what earth-shaking denouement and revelation can we really expect from Pranab Babu tomorrow?
I was at a small corporate function a few days back, and in the absence of anything else to talk about, everyone had the same patented query; So what do you expect the budget to be like? The unanimous expectation was—-populist. In the business world of Armani suits, a pro-poor and aam aadmi budget is secretly sniggered at ; they make it appear as if it has come at the cost of their BSE stock price and net worth. But in the TV studios, they will all sound as if they have emerged as disciplined students of a no-nonsense headmaster , speaking the same lingo. It usually sounds like this “ the budget addresses the long-term needs of the economy and the weaker sections of society , but they could have done more with reforms, particularly in infrastructure. The fiscal deficit, of course, continues to be a worry”.
I don’t exactly know what Pranab Babu has in mind, but I have a sneaking suspicion that one can anticipate , however, what the reactions to his budget will be.