In public life, there is nothing more dangerous than believing one’s own propaganda. The finance minister of West Bengal, Amit Mitra, appears to have fallen into this trap with his eyes wide open. In his budget he has shown that the present government has successfully increased revenue by around 30 per cent. This increase is being seen as a reflection of a significant rise in economic activity in the state. This is an illusion. One reason why revenue collection has increased is the rise in the prices of petrol and diesel; this has resulted in a rise in the collection of sales tax. Thus the state’s revenue collection has gone up. The irony of all this has, of course, escaped the finance minister and his chief minister. The Trinamul Congress left the United Progressive Alliance government in protest against the hike in petrol and diesel prices. That same hike has contributed to a rise in West Bengal’s revenue collection — which is being tomtomed by the finance minister as a great success story. In fact, none of the other factors that have contributed to a rise in revenue — the new entry tax, a one-time spike in power duty, an increase in coal cess (caused by a change in Central policy) and so on — can be attributed to the work of the present government. If these factors are set aside then the revenue growth falls to around 11 per cent, which is what the Left Front used to achieve when it was in power.
A budget in its simplest form is a statement of revenue and expenditure. And when the latter exceeds the former, problems follow. Mr Mitra has clearly, his clever jugglery notwithstanding, failed to register any substantial increase on the revenue side. On the expenditure side, he has to bear the onerous burden of his chief minister’s compulsive and opportunistic populism. Mr Mitra announced in his budget speech an unemployment dole of Rs 1,500 per month for 100,000 persons. Earlier there were endowments made to local sporting clubs, to Muslim religious leaders and so on. The West Bengal government has been reduced to subsidy sarkar in spite of the parlous plight of the state’s finances. The disappearance of logic from the governance of West Bengal has a long history. Mr Mitra has become a part of that appalling narrative. There is no indication that Mr Mitra is ashamed of this. On the contrary, he is probably proud of his craven loyalty to West Bengal’s chief minister of change.