New Delhi, July 10: Achhe din — good days — wasn’t the slogan on BJP leaders’ lips as they praised their government’s first budget today.
Instead, they were drawing on another of Narendra Modi’s mantras: “Sabka saath, sabka vikas (Carrying everyone along, development for all).”
“The finance minister has laid down a comprehensive plan for the revitalisation of the Indian economy. This budget brings back ‘hope’ into the economy,” said a statement from new BJP president and Modi aide Amit Shah.
“It also lays the building blocks for our dream of ‘Ek Bharat, shreshtha Bharat’ (One India, best India). The budget lays down the foundation to rebuild India on the principles of transparency, minimum government and maximum governance. It sets the pace for greater financial inclusion of the weaker sections.”
Senior minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the budget’s principal political message was that it was for everyone.
“It is all-encompassing. There is something for the poor and the marginalised, women, the Northeast, the middle and the neo-middle class, farmers,” he said.
“The measures come in a wrapping whose big thrust is on reforms and growth in the financial sector; the measures come with a roadmap to make India a hub of economic growth while addressing the concerns of the poor.”
Party sources rejected corporate houses’ criticism of the government’s failure to revoke the retrospective taxation law. “Its deletion should not become the benchmark for judging the state of the economy,” a BJP source said.
In Opposition, the BJP had been second to none in demanding the scrapping of the law.
Modi’s fingerprints were all over the 43-page budget document, which was sprinkled with pet phrases from his pre-election speeches, such as “minimum government, maximum governance”, “skill India” and “rurban”.
If one paragraph articulated Modi’s known disdain for “populism”, subsequent ones were eloquent on “smart cities”, whose template is Chhattisgarh’s “Navi Raipur”, a satellite of the state capital.
An outlay of Rs 7,060 crore has been earmarked this fiscal for the development of 100 “smart cities”.
“As the fruits of development reach an increasingly large number of people, the pace of migration from the rural areas to the cities is increasing,” finance minister Arun Jaitley said.
“A neo-middle class is emerging, which has the aspiration of better living standards. Unless new cities are developed to accommodate the burgeoning number of people, the existing cities would soon become un-livable.”
Several of Modi’s flagship schemes from Gujarat have been transplanted on the budget with handsome allocations.
Gujarat’s “rurban development model”, which sought to urbanise villages to stem migration, will be nationally launched as the Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission. Mukherji was the founder of the Jana Sangh, from which the BJP was born.
“The preferred mode of delivery would be through PPPs (public-private partnerships) while using various scheme funds for financing,” Jaitley said.
Gujarat’s Gram Jyoti Yojana will be implemented nationwide and named after Jana Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya. Under it, Rs 500 crore has been set aside to establish feeders for the supply of power to rural areas.
These feeders will be decoupled from those serving cities and towns. Additionally, the scheme seeks to strengthen the sub-transmission and distribution systems.
Another of Modi’s big-ticket projects, the “Statue of Unity” to commemorate Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s memory, got a Rs 200-crore outlay. The statue, originally intended to be built from scraps of metal donated by villagers, will come up in Patel’s home state of Gujarat.
Modi had embarked on the scrap-gathering “mission” before the elections but the exercise ran out of steam mid-course.
Pandits & Ganga
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-BJP agenda has been appropriately flagged. A sum of Rs 500 crore has been allocated in the current financial year for the rehabilitation of displaced Kashmiri migrants.
This is a priority for the government, especially because the Atal Bihari Vajpayee dispensation was slammed for jettisoning the resettlement issue after its leaders had raised it in the BJP’s political discourse.
Valley Pandits have been complaining that the BJP has no use for them because they do not count as a “vote bank”.
The BJP’s core constituency was upset with the Vajpayee government’s purportedly cavalier attitude towards Kashmir’s displaced because it saw the Pandits’ plight as the “result” of the special status that Article 370 confers on Jammu and Kashmir.
The river Ganga has received special focus because of its symbolism for Varanasi, Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency. A secondary reason is that the Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have long campaigned for the river’s “purification”, with current water resources minister Uma Bharati as the spearhead.
Jaitley’s outlay for the Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission, or “Namami Gange”, is Rs 2,037 crore.
Another Rs 100 crore has been earmarked for the “development and beautification” of the “ghats” along the Ganga and the Yamuna in Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna and Delhi.
On top of that, a special NRI fund for the Ganga has been set up to involve the diaspora in the “sacred rivers” agenda.
Jaitley announced that a Rs 100-crore National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive, with the acronym “Prasad” (holy offering), will be flagged this year.
With pilgrims of all faiths in mind, Rs 200 crore has been allotted for the National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (acronym “Hriday” or the heart) for the development of Mathura, Amritsar, Gaya, Kanchipuram, Vellankani and Ajmer, to begin with.
To the BJP’s hard-core political elements, though, the high points are not the “sacred rivers” or the religious hotspots but the emphasis on manufacturing and the “multiplier” effect this would have on job creation and infrastructure.