Ministers' army to hardsell budget

Arun Jaitley

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has asked all ministers to talk up the "positives" in its election-year budget, nervous about the reaction to it and missing support from its otherwise hyperactive ecosystem.

The past couple of days have seen central ministers hold back-to-back media conferences on budget gains to provide the "surround sound" effect that is normally associated with any announcement made by the Modi regime. In effect, the task of the right-wing ecosystem has now fallen on the ministers.

While ministers have in the past held media conferences to break down the budgetary details for common consumption, there is no institutional recall of such an exhaustive exercise where practically every minister is being trotted out to flag the gains for his/her ministry.

Usually, only the flagship announcements of the budget get such ministerial treatment. It falls upon the officials to brief mediapersons on how the budget proposals impact their ministry.

Nearly a dozen media conferences have been held since the budget; six of them over the first two days of this week alone. More are lined up.

The brief for all ministers is to talk up the "positives" as there seems to be a growing realisation in the government that people are only seeing the downside of the proposals.

"People tend to only listen to what affects them, and miss the big picture," rued a senior government functionary, apprehensive that the adage "first impression is the last impression" has already kicked into play.

Efforts are also being made, simultaneously, to secure feedback from journalists on where the budget had fallen short of expectations. And, whether the government may have erred in claiming a "feel good factor" about the proposals, including for the farming sector where the general perception is that the promise of an increase in the minimum support price is a case of too little too late.

For the government and the BJP's media managers, the stone cold response to the budget from their traditional support base - the middle class and traders - comes at a time when the right-wing dominance over the social media narrative is slipping up.

This, according to government sources, has been happening since August 2017, around the time of the keenly contested Rajya Sabha election of Congress veteran Ahmed Patel that saw a day of high drama stretching between Ahmedabad and the national capital.

What has added to the government's woes is that the budget has also disappointed economists otherwise supportive of its decisions.

Former finance minister P. Chidambaram mapped this trend with a series of tweets on Tuesday, listing the voices of disagreement coming out of the government's own stables.

This despite Prime Minister Modi backing up finance minister Arun Jaitley's budget speech with a 25-minute televised broadcast explainer of his own, pen between his fingers, as if taking ownership of the eagerly awaited proposals.


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