Going beyond the budget

Good governance, and not mere policies on paper, will meet our socio-economic challenges

When it comes to the budget, as a statement of intent from the government, it is a good idea to keep your fingers crossed — because a budget is founded on several variables which can cast a shadow over it and affect its eventual outcome.

One way to look at the budget would be to see it as an effort to put more money in the hands of people, to give them a good life and boost consumption; to back industry and, here too, create conditions to put more money, this time in the hands of business, through profit so that the creators of wealth can invest and create some more wealth; and prepare a buffer of sorts against emergencies so that precious gains are not lost. And then there is infrastructure development to continue with the overall plans for improving people’s quality of life. The ecosystem in which India’s Union Budget is presented, needs to be a fair mix of populism on the one hand and hard-nosed financial prudence along with a push towards economic reforms on the other.

But, for a budget to be successful, the key element is good governance, a term that has gained currency since Narendra Modi began his Lok Sabha campaign against the backdrop of the UPA’s unravelling over corruption, poor accountability and weak government. In voting for Modi, Indians believed they were voting for good governance. That promise of good governance is certain to be fully tested now that Arun Jaitley has presented his budget. Modi and Jaitley can also expect to be taken up on the Prime Minister’s word that the poor have the first right to the national treasury. In short, the budget will be marked on how the BJP’s good governance facilitates the aam aadmi’s access to roti-kapda-makaan or food-clothing-shelter.

Simple as it looks, this is a tall order. For budget promises to be met a combination of good governance, level headedness and a hefty dose of luck is needed. Refer to the string of budget presentations over the decades that had been done in for being too ambitious to the point of being naive — but this didn’t persuade the finance ministers to be less so the next time around. Since the beginning of India’s budget exercises, the focus has been on improving agricultural productivity, zooming in on power output, housing, employment generation and industry. Yet the challenges remain, both in scale and delivery.

 

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