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Modi tries to shake off 'suit-boot' label

Published On : 01 Mar 2016   |  Reported By : Courtesy : The Telegraph


New Delhi: The buzzwords in the BJP headquarters over the past month were "poverty elimination" and "farmers' welfare", as the Centre grappled with multiple crises culminating in the Haryana caste violence.

Every official who speculated on Budget 2016 swore it would be "pro-poor", "pro-farmer" and lastly, "pro-people".

So, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed the budget was "pro-village, pro-poor, pro-farmer" and focused to "bring about qualitative change in the country", the BJP felt vindicated.

It wasn't as though the party was the principal catalyst. Modi had apparently firmed up his mind on a "pro-Left" thrust largely to live down Rahul Gandhi's "suit-boot" tag, hung on his government for over a year. "Unfortunately, the Congress propaganda worked. We saw it in Bihar (Assembly elections)," a source admitted.

Modi let on his mind on the budget at an Economic Times corporate summit earlier this month when he put subsidy on a par with outlays or tax breaks for industry. In the presence of the assembled industrialists and policy wonks, Modi asked why they called state handouts to the poor and the farmers as "subsidy" and concessions to industry as "incentives".

"The Prime Minister was clear from the word go that he wanted this budget to be geared towards the poor and the farmers in keeping with our government's credo, ' sabka saath, sabka vikas' (everyone with us, development for everyone)," said BJP general secretary Bhupinder Yadav.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah's tweet hinted that the BJP's tactic might be working. "By not focusing the benefits of #Union Budget2016 on the #suitboot people @arunjaitley has cleverly made the opposition's job a bit tougher," he said.

Another cause of comfort for Modi and his finance minister was passing the scrutiny of the BJP's conscience minders.

Patriarch L.K. Advani, now a member of the superannuated club, the margdarshak mandal, told journalists: "Most heartening is the budget's strong emphasis on the neglected task of revitalisation of agriculture and rural development."

His contemporary and former finance and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha's take was: "Yes, the finance minister has passed the test. There is something for everyone in his budget."

Sinha's son, Jayant, is Jaitley's junior minister. He was closely involved in the budget-making and was reportedly displeased with his father's proclivity to run down the Modi government.

However, the RSS's affiliates who closely monitor and influence the Centre's policies were not as kind as Advani and Sinha.

The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh - these broadly constitute the Sangh's labour, economic and agricultural fronts - critiqued the budget for the 60 per cent tax imposed on EPF savings, for not announcing across-the-board minimum statutory prices (MSP) for all farm produce and for allowing 100 per cent FDI in food processing.

BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay told The Telegraph: "When a person's income is already taxed once, what is the logic of taxing it a second time on the EPF? We will fight the issue out on the streets."

Ashwani Mahajan, the Swadeshi Manch's co-convener, recalled that the BJP had opposed FDI in food processing in its poll manifesto. "Now why has the government changed its position? The move will benefit the MNCs who will hurt the livelihood of traders and exploit the farmers," said Mahajan.

As Jaitley celebrated his third budget presentation with a Rajasthani veggie lunch ferried from a Jaipur caterer by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti for party ministers and spokespersons, NDA allies and Congress friends like Rajiv Shukla, the TV screens on the walls of his parliamentary chamber swung from being bullish to bearish.

Jaitley smiled at Dalal Street's volatility but said nothing. A colleague's response was: "Markets cannot decide if a budget is good or bad. It's time North Block (that houses the finance ministry) stops looking at the market and time the market stops using the budget to gauge the quality of economic reforms."







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