Boosting domestic growth is his mantra. But global icons - spanning generations - on Thursday became the mascots of finance minister P Chidambaram's arguments, as he tried to convince skeptics that the union budget would satisfy the aam aadmi
without spooking investors.
From Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar to Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, Chidambaram sought inspiration cutting across two millenniums as he tried to balance political compulsions in an election year with economic prudence.
In between, he relied on Swami Vivekananda, and even former Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping, to justify his budget.
Even as the Left slammed the budget, the finance minister, often accused by them for pursuing pro-market, "neo-liberal" policies tried to turn the tables on them.
Asked by reporters about his rationale for the additional income tax surcharge on the "super rich," who constitute only about 48,000 tax payers, Chidambaram said: "To quote Deng Xiaoping, I want everyone to become rich."
Deng, the architect of China's economic reforms in 1979 after over a decade of chaos during the Cultural Revolution, had famously justified the entry of private players in his country's economy and said, "To get rich is glorious."
But Chidambaram ignored the latter part of Deng's statement: "some people will get rich first."
Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University, is often quoted by Left-leaning economists to criticize the UPA's economic policies.
But it was Stiglitz, and not right-wing economists, who found mention in Chidambaram's speech to Parliament on Thursday.
"As Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel prize-winning economist, said: There is a compelling moral case for equity; but it is also necessary if there is to be sustained growth. A country's most important resource is its people," the finance minister said.
The finance ministry over the past few years has frequently cited the global slowdown as a key factor behind India's economic challenges. But Chidambaram today chose to turn to Swami Vivekananda to argue that solutions lie within India.
"Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birth anniversary we celebrate this year, told the people: "All the strength and succour you want is within yourself. Therefore, make your own future," Chidambaram said at the fag end of his speech.
And of course, no Chidambaram budget speech is complete without a reference to the 2AD Tamil saint-poet Thiruvalluvar.
Like in all previous budgets presented by him, Chidambaram on Thursday too resorted to the poet to ask critics to stay patient in evaluating his roadmap for the next year.
"Our work will be seen in our actions. How shall we act? I turn to my favourite poet, Saint Tiruvalluvar, who said: "Kalangathu Kanda Vinaikkan Thulangkathu Thookkang Kadinthu Seyal (What clearly eye discerns as right, with steadfast will and mind unslumbering, that should man fulfil)," Chidambaram said.
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