Sitharaman shuns sweeteners, focuses on fiscal fitness in budget

Wednesday 07th February 2024 06:03 EST

Budgets, particularly the pre-poll vote on account version, have traditionally been utilised to convey politically charged messages through tax proposals and welfare programs. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also conveyed a strong message, despite refraining from echoing Prime Minister Modi's "we'll be back" remark. It wasn't solely her assertion that "we anticipate that our government, owing to its remarkable achievements, will once again receive a resounding mandate from the people"; the absence of concessions or giveaways underscored that this was more than just a hopeful declaration.

Classically, a ‘vote on account’ was meant to be just that – an account of receipts and expenditure and to seek parliamentary sanction for funds to keep the wheels of govt running till a full-fledged budget was presented after elections. The FM said as much: “In keeping with convention, I do not propose to make any changes relating to taxation…”
Modi has long derided the culture of freebies or revdis, as he calls them. Rather than make the kind of populist announcements that have characterised the last several interim budgets, Sitharaman’s 56-minute speech focused on show overtures in the form of tax sweeteners as well as sops.

The budget, marking her sixth consecutive presentation - equalling Morarji Desai's tenure - underscores the NDA's confidence, having governed for a decade, in securing a third term in the upcoming LS polls. It follows a day after the government highlighted its key accomplishments and outlined its assumed approach for the next term.
Achievements cited included “housing-for-all”, har ghar jal, electricity-for-all, cooking gas-for-all, bank accounts and financial services-for-all sche mes “in record time”. The free foodgrain scheme was also part of the list of Modi govt’s “pro-poor” programmes.

This, the FM said, showed that while social justice was “mostly a political slogan” for earlier govts, under Modi, it was “an effective and necessa ry governance model”. Covering all eligible people was true social justice and genuine secularism, she asserted.

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