Sanjay Gupta discovers major changes in the Congress’ poll strategy in the form of Chidambaram’s General Budget…

General Budget happens to be a document which not only presents the government’s economic policies but also displays the glimpses of its political agenda. Governments draw the contours of its policies meant for the welfare of all citizens, privileged or non-privileged, through the economic data and people too frame their opinion regarding the performance of the ruling parties.

It is the General Budget which precisely tells about the government’s political agenda especially its programmes and schemes to benefit the people of the country. Usually, a budget document is full of populist announcements by the ruling party or alliance to chase vote banks. The last full-fledged budget of UPA II was also being awaited to know how the Congress, which is leading UPA government at the Centre, would try to woo the voters this time.

The way Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram focused on youths, women and unprivileged class, it reflected that Congress was seeking to expand its vote bank. Stressing on the need for collective responsibility to ensure safety of women and to let them live with dignity in the society, the Finance Minister announced that the government firmly stands to ensure the safety and security of the womenfolk and also to promote their empowerment. He added that this was his fundamental approach and the same was the approach of his party. It is easy for anyone to understand that Congress is mindful of the fact that safety of women has emerged as an issue which is why this thing was highlighted in the Budget speech. Likewise, Chidambaram also talked about youths by saying that the government aims at reaching out to the youths who spearheaded the protests over December 16 gang rape incident in Delhi. He further said that Centre was committed to promote prowess and skill among the youths. Hinting at his party’s new approach, he admitted that around 70 percent voters are below the age of 35 years.

It is noteworthy that ‘common man’ has been at the centre of the UPA government’s agenda in its both innings, but now in changed scenario, the Congress has started to realize that its claims to ensure the welfare of common people especially the poorest of poor is not going to improve its poll prospects. Anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare followed by vehement protest against Delhi gang rape incident, which displayed the growing role of youths as well as social media, compelled the Congress Party to restructure its political course. It is well known fact that a major part of youths is still indifferent towards political life of the country. This group is expressing its views via social media. Congress is especially targeting this group of voters to bring them in its fold. This strategy of the Congress in a way is influenced by Rahul Gandhi. Congress Party is aware of the fact that it is going to face two major challenges in the next general elections. First, the potential candidature of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for the PM post and second is the uncontrolled inflation. Budget cannot provide an opportunity to the ruling party to tackle the challenges being posed by the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi but it can help the Finance Minister P Chidambaram to handle the second challenge. He has exuded the confidence to bring down the fiscal deficit to 4.8 percent by the end of the next financial year and has also made some announcements in this regard. It seems that Congress counts on Chidambaram’s views that this budget will help it to sail through next elections successfully. Perhaps this is the reason why it has promised the common people that inflation will be effectively curbed in coming days. Clearly, it is a poll promise. If the Finance Minister succeeds in controlling inflation in the coming six-eight months, it will be a great relief to the people and will also create a positive environment after which the RBI may also agree to slash interest rates. Chidambaram has also drawn the contours of some of the projects which are likely to have far-reaching consequences and message has been given to different groups of the society that after completion of these projects, the economy will be revamped. Clearly, it is up to the urban and rural voters whether they rely on the projects announced by Chidambaram or not.

General Budget has to be an account of the government’s economic data, but is usually seen that all the policy decisions are reserved for Budget announcements. Policy related declarations can bear fruit only when they are implemented in time. Waiting for a year for the implementation of policy related decisions is not good for a country like India. Unfortunately, it is not only the UPA government but all the previous governments have done the similar thing and now it seems that it has become a tradition for the government to wait till presentation of budget for announcing the policy decisions. Now this has to be changed. At the same time, it is also required to change the style of functioning of the bureaucracy and speed up the decision making process.

It’s obvious that the UPA government failed to display that much of moral courage towards the end of its tenure which the nation awaits immensely. At the end of his budget speech, Chidambaram quoted a statement of Swami Vivekananda to convey that ultimate power lies within us. Therefore, the responsibility to build our future lies on us. He appealed the whole political class saying that all the political parties should work together to mark the onset of a new era of progress in India. It is the need of the hour. The whole world is looking at India. One of the main reasons behind this is universal acceptability about India’s immense potential to emerge as a major superpower. Rise of China is another reason for this. The world community wants India to grow stronger and widen its role in international affairs. But unfortunately, the UPA government has only broken this hope. Perhaps, Chidambaram did not have time to highlight the strength and flaws of country in his budget speech. Actually Budget is not a medium to talk about it, even then, if the hopes he expressed in his speech are realized in the coming days, it will definitely change the picture of the Indian economy to a greater extent.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on March 3, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)