In Budget, promises made to key BJP support bases
When Nirmala Sitharaman rose to present her first budget in Parliament on Friday, she sought to make a political statement on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that stormed back to power, riding the wave of hope and populism.
“At the centre of everything that we do, we keep gaon, garib aur kisan (villages, poor and farmers),” declared India’s first full-time woman finance minister in her budget speech.
Overwhelming support from these constituencies helped the BJP win 303 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 April-May elections and return to power for a second term. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) bagged 353 seats.
Sitharaman’s two hours and ten minute long budget speech promised several benefits to these groups, in line with the promises the BJP made in its sankalp patra, or manifesto, for the elections.
“The stress on schemes for gaon, garib, kisan and also women make it [the budget] more inclusive,” said Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Fadnavis and two other chief ministers — Raghubar Das of Jharkhand and Manohar Lal Khattar of Haryana — face elections in their states later this year. All three hope to benefit from the Centre’s outreach to villages and the poor.
The BJP did well in the Lok Sabha elections in these three states, winning all 10 seats in Haryana, 41 of 48 seats in Maharashtra and 12 of 14 seats in Jharkhand.
The BJP has tried to cultivate a new constituency of voters — such as beneficiaries of government schemes — and break free of its image as an urban party, even at the cost of ignoring its core support base.
“This is an extension of the interim budget and what was promised in our election manifesto. You can’t expect big relief for the salaried or trading community in the very first budget. It’s time to keep focus on gaon, garib aur kisan,” a senior Union minister said, requesting anonymity.
Housing, toilets and roads were key reasons behind the groundswell of support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in rural areas. By putting in more money into these sectors, the BJP is making a political investment for the future.
Sitharaman promised 1.95 crore houses to eligible beneficiaries in rural India between 2019 and 2022; electricity to every rural household by 2022; upgradation of 1.25 lakh kilometres of rural roads at an expenditure of ~80,250 crore; piped water supply to every rural household by 2024; solid waste management in every village; and Internet connectivity in local bodies in every panchayat.
A programme to skill 75,000 entrepreneurs in agro-based industries, bigger investment in agriculture infrastructure and 10,000 new farmer producer organisations have also been promised. An investment of ~100 lakh crore in infrastructure is planned over the next five years.
Among other things are pension benefits for about three crore retail traders and small shopkeepers having an annual turnover of less than ~1.5 crore; development of state roads under the second phase of the Bharatmala project; a national highway grid; gender budgeting and relaxations for start-ups.
“The common man was served even as major transformational reforms were being rolled out. And for this to continue we need to invest heavily in infrastructure, in digital economy and on job creation in small and medium firms,” Sitharaman said.
Sanjeev Kumar Tiwari, associate professor of political sciences in Delhi University, said, “The government has clearly tried to play to the poor gallery in pledging significant investment in areas concerning them and by putting additional surcharge on the super rich. A large chunk of the resources available to the government will go to rural India and the poor. This is significant.”