I know there have been many articles on Mr Chidambaram’s recent budget, but just in case you didn’t read them because while your spirit wanted to study them your flesh was too weak, here’s a simple guide to the finance minister’s speech:
We are in dire straits. The economy is in a shambles, growth is spluttering, prices have shot through the roof and the government is spending much more than it earns. But am I worried? Here’s a quote about me: ‘He would joke with hyenas, returning their stare/ With an impudent wag of the head/And he once went a walk, paw-in-paw, with a bear/“Just to keep up its spirits,” he said.’
Dear voters, to revive the economy I’m giving lots of money to the Ministry of Women and Child Development for the ICDS, NCW, NCPCR, RMK, NIPCCD and NMEW, which, as you know, are all schemes of the MWCD. I’m also starting an All-Women’s Bank. Best of all, I’m doubling the amount of jewellery you can import duty free. So women, vote for us.
I have increased the size of the scheduled caste sub-plan and the tribe sub-plan. Sub-plans for backward, forward and sideways castes are being considered. Castes, vote for us.
Young people, you’ve got scholarships and skill development programmes and other goodies. As Herbert Hoover said, “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.” Vote for us.
Farmers, I’m giving you cheap loans and MGNREGS and PMGSY I and II, so vote for us.
Old people, I am funding dedicated geriatric departments. Also, here’s the good news Bill Cosby gave me: “When you become senile, you won’t know it.” Vote for us while you still can.
Dear voters, I’ve raised taxes on fat cats and evil companies, dealing a blow to capitalists sucking your blood. I have raised the prices of fancy imported cars and SUVs. As Lenin put it, “The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.” See how pro-poor we are.
Dear investors, please put your money in the stock market. I’ve lowered the Securities Transaction Tax and dressed up the Rajiv Gandhi Equity Savings Scheme. Do get the stock market up, so that we all feel good.
Dear foreign investors and rating agencies, see how I have managed, in spite of spending so much, to keep the fiscal deficit low. To quote the White Queen, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” So please don’t downgrade the Indian economy. Foreign investors, keep pouring money into our markets, because if you don’t how will I be able to sell stakes in government companies? I’m depending on you.
Nitish, I love you. Narendra Modi, my budget is better than yours.
Here are some more path-breaking measures: the basic customs duty on de-hulled oat grain is being reduced from 30% to 15%. The same goes for hazel nuts. And here’s the icing on the cake: full exemption from excise duty is being provided on tapioca sago and tapioca starch manufactured and consumed captively in the manufacture of tapioca sago. As Oscar Wilde put it, “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” On that upbeat note, I commend the budget to the house.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
Views expressed by the author are personal