The first round of poll battle has begun with the Congress and the Opposition slugging it out over the impact of the interim budget on the forthcoming general elections.
The Congress plans to use the interim budget presented by Pranab Mukherjee to reassure the electorate — particularly the aam aadmi, the centre piece of its five-year term — that the worst of the economic crisis is over and things can now only improve.
“We were hit but we have weathered the storm,” said a triumphant P.K. Bansal, MoS for Parliamentary Affairs, recounting the various pro-poor initiatives the party would hardsell with voters.
He was echoing what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said about the interim budget. “The continued stimulus for the various flagship programmes…will provide relief to all sections, specially the aam aadmi. The benefits of the stimulus package for the industry and the export sector announced earlier continue to be available. Our stress on increasing the investment on infrastructure and employment generation has been clearly underlined. All this will result in positive turnaround in economic activity and levels of confidence,’’ the PM said in a statement.
The BJP and the Left do not share this optimism. The former will make “economic crisis” and farmers’ problems a major poll issue while the Communists will highlight the UPA’s failures, including its inability to checking the impact of global recession.
“My voters in Hazaribagh may not understand when we talk about the fiscal deficit reaching a 13 per cent figure. But they will surely feel the impact when things get worse,’’ said BJP’s Yashwant Sinha. “We will not let them hide behind the global crisis.”
His senior colleague Jaswant Singh alleged that the UPA’s successive budgets were “fabricated”.
But the ordinary Congress worker would be worried that the existing gains apart, the interim budget does not give him anything tangible to flaunt before the voter. Conscious of this, the government considered removing cess (of Rs 15,000 crore on education and petrol for instance) but decided against it to service its existing commitments.
“Everything is not measured by what you directly put in the hands of the people,’’ said Bansal listing measures like the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, NREGA, farm loan waivers and higher social sector allocations.
The Congress will go to the people with a comparison of the allocations made by the UPA and the NDA in key sectors. In the last five years, the Congress claims credit flow to agriculture rose from Rs 87,000 crore to Rs 2.5 lakh crore. Allocations jumped from Rs 6,093 crore to Rs 16,000 crore (health), Rs 7,024 crore to over Rs 34,000 crore (education), Rs 11,320 crore to Rs 18,972 crore (rural development) and Rs 7,236 crore to Rs 14,066 (road). “All this is people-oriented,” said Bansal.
The Left that sees the poor as its own constituency, however, has disputed this. “What we are seeing is a contraction of government expenditure,” alleged CPM’s Sitaram Yechury.