I watched the Budget*
*But I watched it in self-defence
One man in a shirt, angavastram and veshti so sparklingly white that Lalitaji would have a complex, stands for just under two hours at the same spot making a soliloquy that would make ‘Alas, Poor Yorick!’ seem like a soundbite — and the nation’s intelligentsia is rooted to their TV screens. So on Friday, I decided to be a responsible adult and watch the Budget speech. As soon as I had settled down, I realised that it hadn’t been that long since I had expanded ‘GDP’ as Gross Domestic Profit to the horror of a business editor. Remembering that, I decided to give up on my plans to take down the salient features of the fisc to come. Instead, I would stick to my core competency: making frivolous observations.
As Lord Palaniappan addressed Mr Speaker Sir, I started looking at the other washed masses sitting around the standing figure. Kamal Nath, seated next to the FM, looked uncomfortable. Perhaps it was a point the speaking man was making that he didn’t quite care for. Or it could have been last night’s dinner. On the other side of Lord Palaniappan was Sharad Pawar, who started scribbling away after the words “agriculture has struck a disappointing note” were uttered. It was more likely that he was busy writing down what his dream IPL team would be. Next to Pawar was Sonia Gandhi, who kept blinking away as if it was her words that Lord Palaniappan had just quoted. (It was her mum-in-law’s words from a collection of ‘Selected Sayings’ whose foreword had been written by Sonia Gandhi.)
But as the speech carried on — Lord Palaniappan showing his grit by emphasising words like ‘Dezember’ and ‘rub-ber’ — it was Union Cabinet Minister of Small Scale Industries and Agro and Rural Industries, Mahavir Prasad, who was coming alive. Visible behind the standing-speaking man’s right shoulder, the tika-wearing, Maganlal Meghraj topi-wearing gentleman, Prasad had been looking bored in a dignified fashion. But as soon as Lord Palaniappan mentioned the words, “lactating mothers” (in the context of Integrated Child Development Services), Prasadji started coughing furiously and was wide awake. A nose-digging mission may have followed.
Surprising as it may be for those who’d rather watch the markets than the Budget, there was a climactic moment when the FM announced the bumper loan waiver for poor farmers. Opposition MPs erupted, probably furious that all farmers had not been covered by the waiver. One man had to go up on the other. So we even had the curious spectacle of BJP MP Shahnawaz Hussain jumping up and down with rodent-like force to show his displeasure. It was interesting to see Lord Palaniappan temporarily showing his mortal form as he smiled, licked his lips and kept saying over all that din, “Sit down, yaar. Sit down” — only to be interrupted by the Speaker who was very keen on saying, “What are you doing? What are you doing?”
Things settled down again. Lord Palaniappan went on and on and on. Never will I ever complain about TV ad breaks any more. With a business colleague in the room, I felt awkward about changing channels. I would then be exposing the fact that mature, adult entertainment like the annual Budget speech wasn’t my thing. I had already flipped channels once when Lord Palaniappan was talking about the Health Sector. At that point, Reena Roy in Aadmi Khilona Hai, a film released when Manmohan Singh was FM, was venting her worries about her bua’s health. I couldn’t help it any more. With Lord Palaniappan now proposing to “reduce the duty on steel melting scrap and aluminium scrap from 5 per cent to nil”, I violently pushed the remote button. They were showing the Dharmendra-Jeetendra cult classic Dharam Veer, without doubt a vastly superior film than the one I had been watching since 11 in the morning, and made by a vastly more competent Manmohan than Lord Palaniappan’s economist boss.