The political reactions to the Narendra Modi-Arun Jaitley Budget of 2014-15 were more interesting than the Budget itself. While the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has an unfettered majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time ever, had the chance to put its stamp on a brand of economics it could have called BJP-nomics, its elected members strongly contested suggestions that the Budget was pro-private sector, in an attempt to avoid accusations of the party being a lackey of big business.
The BJP leadership bent over backwards to stress how the Budget is tailored to meet the needs of the middle classes, of its being pro-farmer, pro-women and pro-small business – sections of the population the party believes to be its supporters.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as much: “This Budget is a new ray of hope for the poor and downtrodden sections of society,” he said. “It will give an impetus to jan bhagidari (people’s participation) and jan shakti (people power).”
He described the Budget as the sanjeevani’ (panacea) for the moribund economy.
Budgetary announcements like the Rs 500-crore allocation to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits, securing pension benefits for retired defence personnel, schemes to invigorate small and medium enterprises and steps to boost handlooms have come in for praise from the Sangh Parivar affiliates, including the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.
The Budget also pleased the Sangh for having introduced or named central schemes after some of its icons, among them Shyama Prasad Mukherji (Rurban Mission) and Deendayal Upadhyaya (Gram Jyoti Yojana). It also attempted to consolidate the Sangh’s attempts to appropriate other national icons like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan. The Budget allocated Rs 200 crore for Patel’s ‘Statue of Unity’ in Gujarat, while proposing to set up the Jayaprakash Narayan National Centre for Excellence in Humanities in Madhya Pradesh and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan for total sanitation to commemorate 150 years of Gandhi’s birth in 2019.
While BJP insiders said the Budget would send the right message to the middle class with the raising of the income-tax exemption limit, the party’s allies too were happy with the finance minister. Shiv Sena's Aditya Thackeray tweeted his thanks to Jaitley “for … establishing an IIM in Maharashtra”, which he said he had requested of Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani.
The Congress, predictably, dismissed the Budget as “derivative”. Senior party leader and former minister of corporate affairs Veerappa Moily said the Budget had “zero vision”. “We expected reform measures, but there is just status quo,” he said. “There should have been reforms in the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. Also, there is nothing on the Goods and Services Tax and the Direct Tax Code. It also appears to be a ‘100 crore’ budget [the figure of Rs 100 crore was announced 29 times in Jaitley’s speech] with major schemes being allocated only Rs 50-100 crore.”
Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha and former commerce minister Anand Sharma said, “It is clear that the focus of this government is primarily on promoting private enterprise and urbanisation.” Interestingly, Biju Janata Dal’s BJ Panda welcomed the Budget describing it as “a step in the right direction.” The BJD and BJP are at daggers drawn in Panda’s home state of Odisha.