Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration delivered an election-year budget with a focus on rural parts of the country and the middle class.
Finance Minister Piyush Goyal unveiled measures on Friday that will allocate around $10 billion a year for an income plan for about 120 million farmers and give 185 billion rupees of relief to taxpayers in the year to March 2020.
Modi stormed to power in 2014 on promises of higher growth, faster job creation and better days for the country’s billion-plus population. But a lackluster performance on some of them coupled with relentless attack from the opposition, meant a last ditch attempt to set things right. Here are three words from the speech that suggest who Modi fears and wants to woo:
With the focus of the rural India, the ‘village’ was mentioned more than any other year and terms like farmer and poor were also sprinkled frequently throughout the speech. The big announcement -- a 750 billion-rupee ($10.5 billion) farm-income support program. Farmers with less than two hectares of land will receive 6,000 rupees ($84) each year. That’s likely to assist about 120 million small and marginal farmers.
Goyal mentioned the word ‘job’ or ‘employment’ only 17 times in this Budget speech, against 29, 19, and 25 in the previous three years. A recent report by a national business daily unearthed a government survey that showed unemployment rate at a 45-year high. The data backed the theory that Modi’s ban on high-value currency in November 2016 and botched roll out of goods and services tax a year later rendered thousands unemployed. Implementation of a nationwide sales tax aggravated the situation.
The phrase ‘middle class’, another large voter group that had mostly voted for Modi, was mentioned more than twice compared to speeches delivered since 2014. His popularity has dipped due to demonetization and the teething troubles during the sales tax roll out. People earning as much as 500,000 rupees do not need to pay personal taxes -- a move that the government believes will benefit as many as 30 million.
What Was Missing?
Conscious of unfulfilled promises and a patchy performance meant Goyal curbed use of ‘development,’ ‘manufacturing,’ ‘growth’ and ‘infrastructure’ unlike previous years.