Party on, Bharat is on the map


Reconciling the politically incompatible is a tricky exercise even in an ordinary situation. The task becomes nettlesome when scarce resources are divided among different sections with competing interests. You cannot enrich Paul without impoverishing Peter, goes the maxim.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi defied dominant wisdom by getting FM Nirmala Sitharaman to present a Budget that seeks to mollify BJP’s traditional constituency in the middle class at no cost to the one acquired post-2014 among the socially disadvantaged and economically weak.
Respite for the middle class has not come a day too late. Having kept faith with the party through its winless run spanning decades, they had appeared a tad restive, grudging the focus on the poor. Increase in I-T rebate, higher investment limit for senior citizens in small savings schemes and launch of a new tool for women to invest are ways of acknowledging the faithful.
Relief for the rich is bigger and should help the government buy peace with the influential set. Coming ahead of Lok Sabha elections a year from now, the concession speaks of the government’s confidence about its immunity against the “pro-rich” slur, especially in the light of proposals like the one Sitharaman has announced for traditional artisans and craftspeople. PM Vikas covers a whole swathe of extremely backward castes — from weavers and dyers to carpenters and ironsmiths — engaged in traditional vocations and so far ineligible for targeted assistance. Put together, they have significant weightage in the electoral college. The scheme can broaden BJP’s base in the lead-up to elections.
Schemes for tribals — higher allocation, measures to improve the condition of particularly vulnerable groups and thousands of teachers for Eklavya Schools — show a desire to retain the edge BJP has acquired because of the PM’s personal popularity and which the party has tried to consolidate by the elevation of Droupadi Murmu as President.
There are provisions meant to address other constituencies and considerations too. For instance, the allocation of Rs 5,300 crore for Upper Bhadra project in the dry region of Karnataka is sure to be seen through the prism of looming state elections. Even the well intentioned, though much-delayed, proposal for modernising sputtering cooperatives canbenefit BJP in Maharashtra.
But the Budget’s strength lies in giving wings to PM Modi’s vision of turning India into a developed country. The record allocation for infrastructure, the focus on artificial intelligence, 5G labs and the stress on making things simpler for citizens are all perfect prongs for the promise. They fit in well with India’s growing global profile that is sure to be boosted significantly by the time the G20 summit is hosted.
Steps like introducing artificial intelligence and coding in the Skill India programme offer an interesting contrast to freebie-dipping politics, an alternative model for the large and still-growing section that doesn’t directly benefit from handouts and is attracted by grander schemes serving a purpose bigger than sectional interests. Modi has been trying to get people to buy into this project to join him, as he said in his post-Budget remarks, in this endeavour.
That is not to suggest that populist interventions are anathema to the Modi government. In fact, revenues and global tailwinds permitting, it may increase allocation for the stipend for farmers, besides considering other similar interventions in its last Budget. The FM laughed away her slip of tongue describing “old political vehicles” when she meant “polluting” vehicles. But the intent not to let the “old party” or practitioners of “old politics” take to the wheel should not be underestimated.

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