‘No’ Budget is a Good Budget
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?