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‘A Budget difficult to argue with’

Mumbai’s youth deconstruct FM’s plan, say it’s populist and aimed at the forthcoming elections, report AnitaSharan, Kiran Wadhwa & Barney Henderson. See graphics | HighlightsSee Pictures
Hindustan Times | By Anita Sharan, Kiran Wadhwa & Barney Henderson, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 01, 2008 12:46 PM IST

Finely tailored suits, chic skirts and fancy designations — a perfect picture of corporate India, but without the grey hair. On Friday, young MDs, VPs and filmmakers, representatives of the changing face of corporate India, got together to take part in the Hindustan Times Young India Forum. To discuss, naturally, the Budget presented by Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

As the FM read out the fiscal Budget — his fifth in a row — clad in a pristine white dhoti, these designer-clad corporate honchos chuckled, sighed, laughed and gave their perspective on one of the biggest events of the year in India.

Put seven Young Turks in a room and it would not take very long for any discussion to heat up. And when the issue is as crucial as the Budget, it takes no time at all.

The forum kicked off immediately after Chidambaram’s Budget presentation with one big, noisy agreement: that this Budget was aimed clearly at the forthcoming elections.

“A feel-good, populist budget. It’s very difficult to argue with it,” said Gaurav Mishra, assistant general manager (Indica), Tata Motors. An “inclusive budget,” agreed Nikhil Kaushik, associate vice-president, BTS Investment Advisors.

It was corporate-neutral budget, according to Sarang Wadhawan, managing director, Housing Development and Infrastructure Limited, and one of the moderators for the discussion. “It’s targeting the middle-income and agricultural votes.”

Everyone agreed, however, with Devita Saraf, executive director, Zenith Computers, when she said: “Corporate India has had a long bull run so it’s good if the FM has decided to let it be and focus on the bottom of the pyramid where there are genuine concerns.”

Not everyone was happy though. Filmmaker Vipul Shah complained that the entertainment sector, especially the film industry, had been ignored. “We’ve been fighting against entertainment tax for five years,” he said.

What attracted everyone’s interest was the Rs 60,000-crore wavier of loans for small and marginal farmers. While corporate India agreed that it was worthy to have tackled the agriculture debt crisis, they were wary of its repercussions.

“The headlines will be about wiping out farmer debts, and rightly so, but whether Chidambaram has opened a Pandora’s Box remains to be seen,” said Wadhawan.

The initiatives on education also got the thumbs-up. As the second moderator for the debate Purvi Sheth, vice-president, Shilputsi, put it: “We need more IIT graduates and more skilled young people. If we want India to compete on an international stage, we need more high-grade educational institutes.”

Shweta Joshi felt that educational incentives would now enable India to focus on research and development. “The boost to technology in education and a knowledge network are good news. Moving to being a knowledge-based society from the current consumption-based society will be good for India,” said the former teacher.

Introducing himself as an environmentalist, Sohail Khan, head of sales for Deal Group Media, pointed out that environmental issues had been largely ignored, except for the protection of tigers. “Eventually, it’s an ecosystem we exist in where everything affects everything, directly or indirectly,” he warned.

The discussion was not without its unanswered questions. How will all allocations be implemented effectively? How do you let people at the bottom of the pyramid know of the initiatives for them? What’s the plan on enhancing agricultural productivity?

The forum ended with hearty laughter as Kaushik quipped on Chidambaram’s statement that he was a lucky FM.

“He’s a lucky FM all right! He made an entry when India went into a growth phase; he’s going into the election year in a growth phase.”

No one contradicted Sarang when he ended the session saying it was a budget aimed at “bringing Congress back to power”.

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