ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Whither NDA’s Interim Budget?

Unreasonable populism produces aspirations that do not go beyond rhetoric.

 

Interim budgets are generally mojo hands for outgoing governments who have to contest imminent elections at the end of their tenure in office. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s interim budget statement is no exception to this. Overflowing with (unreasonably) populist income support and tax giveaway declarations, this budget, as expected, has been used by the government for reclaiming its dented political image. But, what is unprecedented is how it has utilised something as transient as an “interim” budget for potential long-term political gains. Inasmuch as the budget statement is not merely the ruling party’s manifesto for contesting another election, it is a manoeuvre to take over the reins of the aspiration politics of the current political dispensation.

Take, for instance, the annual income support of ₹ 6,000 to the smallholder farmer or the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme, one of the new spending heads declared in the budget. Beyond the debate on the adequacy of the payments is the entrenched political implication of the scheme. If the payment of the first instalment of ₹ 2,000 is made before the polls, it would directly implicate the current government with charges of buying votes. On the other hand, if payments are deferred to after the elections, and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government comes to power, there will be accusations of distortion of electoral choice from the opposition, and further libelling if the re-elected government miscarries its promise. For a non-BJP incumbent government, however, pressures for performance are higher. Given the populist appeal of such a scheme, no government, in the first place, will retract it, even if it strains the exchequer. But, by criticising the meagreness of the payment, the opposition is in a foot-in-mouth situation. Besides creating an expectation among their vote bank that they would come with more of such support if voted into power, they are simultaneously overexposing themselves to the risk of anti-incumbency at the slightest deviation from such expectation. Similar risk pertains to the unorganised sector pension scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Mandhan (PMSYM), among others.

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Updated On : 13th Feb, 2019

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