No poetry, no humour and a few anxious moments

  • Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 10, 2014 22:54 IST

Perhaps you need monsoon rains in abundance to get a finance minister to lapse into poetry. Arun Jaitley's maiden Budget on Thursday was long on substance and detail, and short on the frills and style that usually lend lighter moments to the annual financial exercise.

There was no attempt at humour either, as the 61-year-old minister, a lawyer by profession, went about his Budget speech with a precise, dour approach.

The opposition benches, famous for noisy protests, snide remarks and the occasional hooting were surprisingly quiet as Jaitley rambled through his speech, watched by his wife Sangeeta and their daughter from the Speaker's gallery.

There was only one real interruption – and that came from the minister himself as he suffered a bout of back pain that led to the Lok Sabha being adjourned for five minutes.

Jaitley's predecessor P Chidambaram quoted Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz as well in his last Budget, invoking the ancient and the present for inspiration. Pranab Mukherjee never missed a chance to quote the wisdom of Kautilya.

In contrast, Jaitley was precise to the point of reading out sub-headings through his 127 minutes. The minister sought an adjournment 45 minutes into this speech. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan promptly granted it.

Jaitley's 16,536-word speech was also the longest in recent memory. It surpassed his own BJP colleague Yashwant Sinha's 2002-03 Budget that ran into 15,882 words and Congress party's Pranab Mukherjee's 14,157 words a decade later.

The first hint of Jaitley's discomfort came when he stopped reading the speech and briefly spoke to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and home minister Rajnath Singh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to figure out what was happening.

Some BJP leaders, and Congress chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia rushed to enquire about his health and even a doctor was summoned but that was brushed off as it was only an instance of back pain.

When Scindia narrated the details to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president could be heard suggesting that Jaitley should read the rest of his speech while seated.

But the minister resumed shortly, putting at ease his colleagues and millions of Indians watching the speech live on TV.

The nation was looking for quirks in his speech, and tweeters zeroed in on the Rs 100 crore allocated for various schemes. One website counted the number of Rs 100 crore schemes in Jaitley's budget at 29, compared with a mere nine in the previous year's budget.

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