Budget: The word ‘budget’, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is derived from the Old French bougette, the diminutive of bouge, which meant, very simply, a leather bag. So you see at once the emphasis is on the bag in which the finance minister carries away what he can gouge out of a hapless populace. Some etymologists say that considering the crores of rupees mopped up in today’s budgets, the use of the diminutive bougette is no longer warranted, and we should call it a Budge instead of a Budget. Others believe, though, that Budget is actually an acronym, standing for Bloody Underhand Device to Get Everything Taxed.
Old-timers say that long ago, when men were heroes and women damsels, the government used to provide services in return for taxing us. These days, when you can be robbed in your house without the police having a clue, when roads have become potholes, when entering a government hospital is a one-way ticket and when getting water and electricity is so incredibly difficult, that bit about providing a service is just a quaint old tradition. In this country, though, a happy truce has been engineered between the government and most people. While they pretend to pay taxes, the government pretends to provide services.
Budget Day: This is the finance minister’s big day. At present, the only ones who make money from it are the business newspapers and business TV, the budget speech being considered too boring by the entertainment channels. Sources say efforts are on to change this unfortunate state of affairs, with a committee examining whether it would be appropriate to add light and sound effects and, indeed, making the speech itself in rhyming couplets, preferably with a chorus. But rumours that Monday’s budget will start with the lines, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s play the sax/ Because Pranab Mukherjee’s coming to tax” are completely unfounded.
Fiscal deficit: In the beginning they used to have a plain deficit, which showed how big a hole there was between the government’s income and its expenses. But people started pointing fingers at it and saying things like, “Oooh, see what a hole they’ve dug themselves into”, so the government set up a committee of economists to redefine the hole. They came up with the primary deficit, the budget deficit, the revenue deficit and the fiscal deficit, so that nobody knew any longer what the heck they were talking about. The extent of the confusion can be seen from the fact that while half the economists want a higher fiscal deficit, the other half want a lower one. The International Monetary Fund used to be of the opinion that all fiscal deficits were bad but they now think it’s good for Western countries. Some Indian economists agree, but believe deficits in India are particularly bad. As you can see, the original purpose of thoroughly mystifying the whole thing has been completely achieved.
The Budget quote: This is part of the great Indian budget tradition, with finance ministers feebly attempting to brighten up dull-as-ditchwater speeches by throwing in quotations from literary works. Everybody thinks Pranab Mukherjee will quote Rabindranath Tagore in his budget speech on Monday. Some are worried that just before announcing new tax rates, he may quote Tagore’s line “Those who own much have much to fear.” But the rumour that Mukherjee plans to start his speech with the Tagore quote “Grey hairs are signs of wisdom if you hold your tongue/Speak and they are but hairs, as in the young” and then take the bard’s advice and sit down and say absolutely nothing is simply not true. An informed source tells me that, instead, he will take the advice of the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and begin at the beginning, go on till the end and then stop.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint.