‘No’ Bud­get is a Good Bud­get

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Anuvab Pal

Ev­ery year be­fore this one, the Bud­get was looked at with ex­pec­ta­tions. Will he, the fi­nance min­is­ter, give In­dia a tax break? Will he ease ser­vice tax, lower cor­po­rate tax rate, come door to door, hold up his phone and do a PayTM trans­fer straight to our banks?

Pre­vi­ously, when the FM talked about fis­cal deficit and planned ex­pen­di­ture, ur­ban In­dia heard ‘Your prob­lem, we don’t care!’ When he talked about ru­ral devel­op­ment pro­grammes, im­prove­ment in so­cial wel­fare, ed­u­ca­tion, health­care, ur­ban In­dia heard ‘Blah blah blah’. When he came to in­come and ser­vice taxes above .₹ 5 lakh, that’s when sud­denly 300 mil­lion ears perked up and said, “Ab bol!” That was the rit­ual for years. As the pub­lic, our needs are self­ish and self-cen­tred and near im­pos- sible. Our ex­pec­ta­tions of the fi­nance min­is­ter are end­less. You only have to watch TV the weeks be­fore any Bud­get to get a gen­eral idea of the knowl­edge of eco­nomics. Dur­ing the 2016 Bud­get, I heard the fol­low­ing: Mum­bai jeweller: FM should abol­ish in­come tax. Chen­nai house­wife: Re­sign at the end of his Bud­get speech. Gu­jarati businessman: Say sorry first for ev­ery­thing, then make pres­sure cook­ers cheaper.

Delhi col­lege stu­dent: Stop mess­ing with us.

This year was dif­fer­ent. All the mad de­mands fused into one. Af­ter what hap­pened in Novem­ber, the whole na­tion, in uni­son, had only one re­quest: just don’t do any­thing crazy. Arun Jait­ley re­sponded by not do­ing any­thing. The coun­try erupted in joy.

Jait­ley’s Bud­get, be­yond all the nitty-gritty eco­nomics, can be summed up in one word: noth­ing. And by noth­ing I mean noth­ing in­sane. And given the ab­so­lute mad­ness in the world right now, that’s enough. That’s huge suc­cess. That’s all our ex­pec­ta­tions have come down to.

We live in a world where ev­ery day we are hit with just earth­shak­ing news, that just stand­ing still is mov­ing for­ward. Af­ter de­mon­eti­sa­tion and Trump, we’ve come to ex­pect, pretty much any­thing can hap­pen.

Could he have raised in­come tax by 250%? Sure. Could he have said all gold held in the coun­try would have to be per­son­ally de­posited to the eco­nomic af­fairs sec­re­tary who would keep it for the next 10 years in a large cabi­net? That wouldn’t have sur­prised us. We’ve come to realise that, at least in eco­nomics, what­ever your par­ents said would never hap­pen, will most surely, def­i­nitely hap­pen. Ex­am­ples: ‘Cash is king’. Yeah, we saw that. ‘Buy a house be­cause In­dian prop­erty prices will never fall.’ Ha, ha.

As in­dus­tri­al­ist Rahul Ba­jaj wit­tily said on TV when asked what he thought of this Bud­get, “I just got back from Davos. For­get the Bud­get. I don’t even know what the word ‘truth’ means any­more.”

Even the PM’s De­cem­ber 31speech, we were all lis­ten­ing for one thing — ‘Will he say some­thing earth-shat­ter­ing and ruin New Year’s Eve? Like mak­ing cheque books il­le­gal? No? Ok. Happy New Year.’

Nat­u­rally, with Don­ald Trump show­ing his own brand of glo­ri­ous mad­ness, look­ing for sta­bil­ity else­where so that we can say, ‘Yes, we may be mad but look at them,’ is no longer ap­pli­ca­ble. Could you have a valid H-1B and not be able to en­ter Cal­i­for­nia next month? It’s pos­si­ble. Could In­dia be added to some ar­bi­trary list of coun­tries where visa hold­ers above 5 foot 6 inches will be ad­mit­ted in the US? It can hap­pen. That’s how we mea­sure our days now. What fun­da­men­tal per­ma­nent rule about the world broke to­day? None. Ok. Good day.

So Arun Jait­ley’s day was a good day. Noth­ing shook. As TS Eliot said, that means “We are still and still mov­ing.”

Where’s my wal­let?

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