Given that UPA II has been politically on a sticky wicket with rampant corruption charges flying thick and fast, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s budget was politically expected to be an attempt at image correction.
It turned out to be precisely this, addressing the urban middle class, the corporate world, and also the vast rural population with a slew of promises and sops. In other words, it tried to be a please-all budget at a time when the government is attracting much negative publicity.
Emphasising the please-all nature of the budget, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “It’s an essay in holistic and inclusive approach without any sensation and any knee-jerk reaction.”
The opposition tried to wrest back the advantage, saying that the budget was anti-aam aadmi, it had failed to take steps to contain inflation and unemployment.
The urban middle class —which had turned away from the BJP, was looking cynical as inflation rose and scams broke out — has been promised more money in its pockets with the income tax exemption limit being hiked from R1,60,000 to Rs 1,80,000 per annum. The budget also addressed the black money issue, on which the opposition has been targeting the government.
If all this was meant at re-appropriating an increasingly cynical middle class, the budget also announced a slew of measures for agriculture. The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana saw an allocation jump of more than Rs 1,000 crore, while credit flow to farmers went up by R1 lakh crore. Though the impact of such schemes takes time, they make a powerful campaign slogan, particularly when West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh are set for state polls.Mukherjee’s budget also lowered the surcharge on corporate tax from 7.5% to 5%, aiming at cheering up the industry perceived to be disturbed over the recent negativity in India’s business image.
The BJP, which eyes the same middle class base that the government has wooed, however, has kept its criticism rather general and lacking in focus. “There is no big idea. It is an unimaginative budget…,” said a BJP release.