Business Standard

Rama’s radiance in FM’S six yards of optimism

- ADITI PHADNIS New Delhi, 1 February

It was Nirmala Sitharaman who explained the context best: why India’s finance minister chose to wear blue while presenting an Interim Budget that was sunny, bright, optimistic, and full of possibilit­ies. It had nothing to do with the grey skies in Delhi. “In Tamil Nadu, this blue is called Rama’r neelum. There are different kinds of blue. And this double shade of blue with hints of green is associated with Lord Rama… his complexion is this shade of blue,” she told Business Standard as she walked out of the Lok Sabha (LS) after she had presented the Interim Budget. This is the colour images of Rama wear when they are displayed as dolls during Navaratri in Tamil Nadu.

This blue is different from the Ananda blue, the light blue colour of the sky associated with Krishna, or the Krishna megha varnam, the blue of the dark rain clouds.

The tussar sari itself was from West Bengal, with Kantha embroidery, and tiny ‘quilt-like’ running stitches creating a wondrous tapestry on the fabric.

Rama was very much in evidence, and chants of Jai Shri Ram rent the air in the LS along with Bharat Mata Ki Jai as Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi walked in.

But apart from the initial ebullience, the mood in both the ruling party and Opposition benches was strangely subdued, even melancholy: unlike past Budgets, chants of ‘Modi Modi’ were absent. It could have something to do with the size of the LS where incidental­ly, Sitharaman presented India’s first (Interim) Budget in the new building.

The old LS always saw Members of Parliament (MPS) packed in benches like sardines. The new LS is much more spacious, designed as it is to accommodat­e 800-plus members.

Unlike the old LS, where the press gallery hung directly over the Speaker’s chair and there was always the danger of papers falling from the gallery on to the Speaker’s table, in this building, accidents like those cannot happen.

The downside is, the air of intimacy is absent.

The Opposition made only half-hearted efforts to interrupt the speech and did not appear to notice that in the Budget speech, the Prime Minister was quoted five times — his 2023 Independen­ce Day speech, twice. The PM joined the treasury benches in applauding every time he was quoted. There was no other poetry — no Kural, no Tagore, no Upanishads or Ramayana.

There was extended applause as Sitharaman spoke of the years to come: “We are working to make India a Viksit Bharat by 2047. To achieve that goal, we need to improve people’s capabiliti­es and empower them.”

MPS also applauded when she announced the focus on developing the eastern region of the country to ensure equitable regional growth. But MPS were most enthused by the announceme­nt that the dues of those with disputed tax claims, many going back several decades, would be written off. Sitharaman’s daughter Parakala Vangamayi, married recently, was in the visitor’s gallery. As before, this time too, Sitharaman bowed to her older relatives in the gallery before she started her Budget speech and after she ended it. She smiled. They smiled. And an unseen signal passed between them.

Later after the House had adjourned, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal was seen waving to Parakala, who waved back gaily. Business Standard asked her about the expectatio­n that women farmers would see their Kisan Samman Nidhi double to ~12,000. “We will think of that in July,” she replied. However, the 2019 Interim Budget and the later final Budget were almost the same. “This time, it will be different. Wait,” she said.

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