So, what does the budget mean for you?
For the man on the street, it means nothing (gone are the days when people stocked up on cigarettes and petrol before the Union budget in anticipation of a price hike) apart from some boring programmes on news channels and near-unreadable newspapers the next.
For senior executives and analysts, it’s a day of interviews with journalists and rounds of TV news channels. For very senior executives, it also means a chance to pick a number between 1 and 10 to rate the finance minister of the day.
For investors on the stock market, it means a day when they try and read real or imagined between-the-lines messages in the minister’s speech, thereby taking indices up, or down.
For opposition parties, it means an opportunity to badmouth the government for anti (pick one or more) middle-class/poor/salaried class/industry/farmer/investment/growth sentiments.
And for newspapers such as the one you are reading, it’s a day when there’s a surfeit of advertising (making it a sort of Indian equivalent of the Superbowl for them).
Popular opinion seems to suggest that it is no longer fair to expect the budget to announce the kind of policies it did in the past—reforming taxes, opening up markets, or making it possible for Indian companies to go global. Indeed, the past few budgets have largely been exercises in boredom and populism, reflecting wasted opportunities rather than the vision needed to accelerate economic expansion, remove inequity, and generally make things better for everyone.
Yet, as he presents the budget today, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has the opportunity to prove everyone wrong and present a visionary budget.
From the comfort of the armchair (where one is burdened neither by the baggage of history nor the populist compulsions of politics), all he needs to do is focus on a few issues that will send out the right signals about this government’s pro-growth, pro-reform, pro-investment and pro-poor policies. One would be the removal of the fiscal stimulus to signal a return to fiscal prudence (any move on subsidies, including efforts to replace them with direct transfers to beneficiaries, would be a bonus). Another would be some concrete supply-side measures to curb inflation, even if this means opening up the retail business to foreign companies. The third would be some clarity on tax reforms. And the fourth would be efforts to encourage investments in infrastructure, including measures to deepen bond markets and allowing foreign insurance companies more play in the country.
What relevance does today’s budget have? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org