Arun Jaitley’s Budget 2018 focuses on outreach to key segments
The intent of Arun Jaitley’s Budget 2018 speech was unmistakable: ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ figured 23 times in it; so did ‘jobs’, ‘employment’ and ‘farmers’; and there were 11 mentions of ‘women’.Updated: Feb 02, 2018 00:27 IST
The NDA government made a major outreach to the poor, farmers, and women on Thursday, with finance minister Arun Jaitley devoting most of his Budget speech to them in a year in which eight states are scheduled to go to polls ahead of the Parliamentary elections in 2019.
The intent of Jaitley’s speech was unmistakable: ‘poor’ and ‘poverty’ figured 23 times in it; so did ‘jobs’, ‘employment’ and ‘farmers’; and there were 11 mentions of ‘women’.
The Union budget 2018 was focused on addressing the agrarian crisis, which was being seen to have had an impact on the ruling BJP’s performance in the recent Gujarat elections. With farmers’ protests gaining steam in many states — including in Rajasthan, where the opposition Congress won bypolls for three seats (two Lok Sabha and one assembly) on Thursday — Jaitley dwelt on the government’s plans for the agriculture sector and rural areas for about 30 minutes of his 100-minute-long speech.
He refrained from following in the footsteps of the previous UPA government that had announced a farm loan waiver worth Rs 60,000 crore in its last full budget in 2008, about a year before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
While announcing 50% profits to farmers on their cost of cultivation of kharif crops, Jaitley opted for structural reforms to address the agrarian stress: upgrading agri-market infrastructure; launching ‘operation green’ to deal with price vagaries; setting up specialised agro-processing financial institutions; and creating funds for fisheries and animal husbandry sectors.
One of the biggest announcement was the proposed national health protection scheme, which could benefit 50 crore people.
There were many incentives targeted at women but this is not the first time the BJP has sought to reach out to them. Many new initiatives in the education sector and job-oriented schemes, announced are expected to appeal to the youth. The budget also had several proposals aimed at Dalits and tribals.
There was only one instance in the budget that could be specifically linked to any of the eight states that will go to polls this year: the plan for a 160 km suburban network at an estimated cost of Rs 17,000 crore to cater to the growth of Bengaluru.
“It’s an election-oriented budget... The BJP has been losing in rural areas. It has learnt lessons from the recent Gujarat elections and they have tried to woo rural voters,” said Hari Desai, an Ahmedabad-based political analyst.