Nirmala Sitharaman’s ‘swan song’ Budget speech virtually an ode to Modi

10-year balance sheet aims for sure-shot ticket to another voter mandate, writes K. Raveendran

Nirmala Sitharaman during the Budget 2024 speech (Sansad TV screengrab courtesy @nsitharamanoffc/X)
Nirmala Sitharaman during the Budget 2024 speech (Sansad TV screengrab courtesy @nsitharamanoffc/X)

K Raveendran/IPA

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s interim budget speech sounded like a well-crafted compendium of compliments to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was as though she was singing her swan song, and an ode to the greatness of her mentor, rather than talking about what the government planned to do in the days ahead. It also had a well-disguised appeal for votes with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind.

As such, the focus was more on the track record of the Modi government since 2014, and there was no attempt to apportion any part of the credit to herself as finance minister for more than one term. She merely listed the achievements of the government and reeled out bits of statistics to support her claims. At the same time, she did not forget to flog a dead horse by comparing the Modi government’s achievements to the "mismanagement" of previous regimes. In fact, she promised a whitepaper on the subject.

Obviously, there was no dearth of platitudes, including inclusivity and ‘whole of nation’ approach, which the finance minister claimed was a marked departure from the ‘provisioning up to village level’ approach followed by the previous governments, which was built around entitlements.

She also sought to showcase the new kind of ‘socialism in action’ by the Modi government in which there were only four castes: mahilayen (women), yuva (youth) and annadata (farmers), a new line that Modi has been propounding at his roadshows and rallies. Also, there was enough stress on how previous regimes used social justice more as a political slogan rather than an administrative goal.

The message appeared to have hit bull's eye. PM Modi was seen thumping his desk non-stop as his trusted minister wound up her speech, heaping praise on his vision and commitment to the poor and vulnerable sections of the people.

Modi gave the finance minister full marks, when he described her budget as "inclusive and innovative". He couldn’t hold back his penchant for eye-catching numbers and terminologies either, describing the current situation as a "sweet spot" in which capital expenditure has been at a record high of Rs 11,11,111 crore.

Given the interim budget, Sitharaman's task was rather limited. So, there were hardly any dramatic announcements. No changes were proposed in taxes and levies, nor structures and administration. Here again, claims of benefits and improvements were benchmarked against records of governments before 2014.

For the most part, Sitharaman seemed to be delivering an election speech. She claimed people are living better and earning better. Average real incomes have increased by 50 per cent while inflation remained moderate. “People are getting empowered, equipped and enabled to pursue their aspirations. There is effective and timely delivery of programmes and of large projects,” she claimed.

Empowerment of women was a theme that ran through the presentation. The finance minister referred to empowering women through entrepreneurship, ease of living, and dignity in the past 10 years. This included 30 crore Mudra Yojana loans to women entrepreneurs, increase in female enrolment in higher education by 28 per cent in 10 years, and in STEM courses to 43 per cent of total enrolment, which was claimed to be one of the highest in the world.

The listed women-friendly initiatives also included making ‘triple talaq’ illegal, reservation of one-third seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, and providing over 70 per cent of the houses under PM Awas Yojana in rural areas to women as sole or joint owners.

The minister further exuded confidence that these programmes would continue in the next five years as she was confident that the voters of the country would bless the Modi government with another tenure.

“With confidence arising from the strong and exemplary track-record of performance and progress earning sabka vishwas (universal trust), the next five years will be years of unprecedented development, and golden moments to realise the dream of developed India@2047. The trinity of demography, democracy and diversity backed by sabka prayas (universal effort) has the potential to fulfill aspirations of every Indian,” she declared.

IPA Service, read original article here

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