Echoes of a budget 40 yrs ago - that almost died at birth | india | Hindustan Times
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Echoes of a budget 40 yrs ago - that almost died at birth

india Updated: Jul 06, 2009 13:32 IST

The budget presented by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee reaffirms the Congress-led government's 'inclusive growth' agenda. It is an echo from a 40-year-old budget brewed in the Congress party's internal power struggle of 1969 - that almost failed to get passed.

Monday's budget, while acknowledging this legacy, also subtly struggled to shed some of the economic dead weight imposed for political purposes from then on. This legacy was born during the All India Congress Committee (AICC) session in Bangalore in the summer of 1969. Then prime minister Indira Gandhi had unveiled her famous 14 "stray thoughts" to counter party president S Nijalingappa.

Representing the old guard, the latter, in his session-opening address, had proposed a lesser government role in the economy. The stray thoughts became Gandhi's response to the challenge of establishing her authority within the party as the supreme leader, as also to regain the party's waning social base and influence with an economic programme that resonated with the people.

The party rift surfacing at Bangalore became a head-on collision over the issue of selecting the party nominee for the post of president of India that fell vacant due to the sudden demise of Zakir Husain.

In a swift move, Gandhi stripped deputy prime minister Morarji Desai of the finance portfolio and on July 19, nationalized 14 large private banks that had been stalled by her predecessor. Soon after, the official Congress nominee for the post of president of India was defeated by Gandhi's nominee VV Giri.

The party then split into Old Congress and Congress-Jagjivan Ram. Losing the majority in the Lok Sabha, the government had to depend on the Left parties' support for survival. And politics flowed out into twin economic streams: one was for gaining the "commanding heights of the economy" and the other was "inclusive growth".

The central finance ministry, with some new top level policy makers, became the hub for discussing policies such as the options before the government to convert loans extended to private firms from its financial institutions into equity, higher direct tax on the corporate sector and urban land ceiling bill.

The options also included a new bonus for organised labour, tighter control of private sector through a new monopolies and restrictive trade practices law, norms for bank lending to priority sectors, including agriculture, steps to reduce the role of black money and other policy instruments to bend foes and win friends.

In the budget presented by Gandhi as finance minister in February 1970, many of these policy discussions became official proposals. Another significant part of that budget was a separate document, titled "Growth with Social Justice".

This document, for the first time, attempted to put together some direct intervention programmes for reducing poverty among the small landholders, the landless, rural and urban disadvantaged sections with a focus on income-generation programmes.

It would be no exaggeration if one were to describe this as the precursor of India's white - or milk, poultry, vegetable cultivation - revolution as also several present rural development schemes.

All budgets are prisoners of their predecessors.

But Gandhi proved this assumption wrong by charting a new course and setting afire the Yamuna. Strangely, that budget almost died at birth. Even while she was presenting the budget speech from 5 p.m. in the Lok Sabha, the opposition kept interrupting her.

As soon as she sat down completing her speech, speaker RK Khadilkar adjourned the house amidst the din.

In the meanwhile, news agencies were coming out with statements from the opposition calling for Gandhi's resignation for leaking the budget. Soon, it was discovered that Gandhi had failed to formally introduce the Finance Bill before completing her speech and the speaker had erred in adjourning the house before this formality.

Technically, as a result, the budget had not been presented. For a while, no one in the government could come up with a solution to break this imbroglio.

To cut the long story short, the Lok Sabha re-assembled around midnight to discuss the unprecedented situation. The government had conveyed a request to the speaker to allow every member of the opposition to speak and they exhausted themselves while attacking Gandhi.

When everyone expected Gandhi to reply at length and explain her lapse, the lady mumbled a few words and the speaker again adjourned the house that erupted in uproar. According to news agency reports, Gandhi had said in her cryptic reply: "Sir, I beg the leave of the house to move the Finance Bill, 1970."

Thus, the budget officially got revived.