Jaitley done, Prof Modi presents budget

BUDGET BUDDIES: Narendra Modi and Amit Shah at a BJP parliamentary party meeting in New Delhi 
on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi: Unprecedented is a big word in the Narendra Modi scheme; they get excited about for-the-first-time-ever kind of things. It is no longer a novelty that the Union budget is read out seated; that has been the norm these last few years of Arun Jaitley's helmsmanship of the finance ministry. Neither is it a new thing now that there are no more resorts to Urdu shayari to spike up budgetary oration.

But trust the Prime Minister seldom to be short on imagination. This was to be the final full budget presentation of his first tenure in office. He had plans. There would be not one, but two budget speeches.

No sooner had Jaitley lumbered to the end of his two-hour bilingual presentation - often fumbling the Hindi bits, often uneasy to step from one tongue to the other, but studiously unbothered by the odd catcall from Opposition benches - than the Prime Minister himself got into the act. As Lok Sabha TV tuned off, Doordarshan took over.

From one live telecast, straight onto another. Simultaneous feeds playing on all news channels, sans break. When the Prime Minister speaks he speaks seamless; commerce must take a break.

This afternoon, there was also the little matter of three thumping by-election losses in Rajasthan - two Lok Sabha and one Assembly - at the hands of the Congress for the BJP spin doctors to worry about.

Prime Minister Modi ensured he kept the bad news off television a further hour or so, holding national centre-stage after Jaitley was done.

Jaitley read off sheets arranged in a portfolio, as most finance ministers do on budget day; Modi held masterclass, uncapped pen in one hand, notebook in another. Jaitley's appeared merely the clerical presentation of the budget in comparison; Modi it was who played Professor Budget, highlighting key proposals, underlining their meaning, spelling out the contexts, rolling out what lay ahead.

It was dressed up as a live telecast, but there is good reason to imagine the Modi discourse as something pre-recorded and played out as soon as the Lok Sabha presentation was over. Delayed-live would probably be fitting. For, the Prime Minister seemed ready and rehearsed with in-depth annotations on almost everything his finance minister had earlier unveiled. That, or the Prime Minister possesses not merely God-ordained grasp of complex finance minutiae but also a magical facility to interpret them live and instantly.

To sum up, for those that missed the stellar post-budget budget presentation, it was an elaborate celebration of the self, as you would expect of Prime Ministers in the penultimate year of their term and facing election year. This is superbly thought out, that is going to be of immense help, we have done what has never been done before, we shall go on doing what has never been done before. That sort of thing.

It's going to be election year soon; the Prime Minister is hitting poll mode, and he isn't robbing himself the opportunity of presenting the budget twice over and indulging in, for the first time ever, the longest live discourse on the budget.


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