Budget aimed at UP Assembly prize

The PM had been addressing farmers' in a bid to bring them to his side.

There can be little doubt that the Union Budget for 2016-17 presented by finance minister Arun Jaitley on Monday is aimed at wooing the peasant proprietor, an influential section of the rural landscape that has not had its basic expectations met under the Modi dispensation although nearly two years have gone by. In this period this class has suffered on account of inadequate rainfall and unchanged minimum support price for crops, besides a downswing in the international market for cash crops.

In Maharashtra alone there have been 126 farmer suicides since January this year. Even before the Budget was presented, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been addressing farmers’ rallies in a bid to rally the food-grower to his side. In the wake of the recent Jat agitation in Haryana, and before that of the Gujarat Patidars and the Andhra Kapus, warning signals have gone out to the ruling party that all would not be well if such an extensive voting segment was left feeling alienated.

This has therefore been a thoroughly political Budget even if its effects are not strongly felt in the five Assembly elections being held over the next few weeks. In any case, in the main, these states are not regions where the BJP has been traditionally very influential although it gained from them in the May 2014 Lok Sabha poll. The prize the BJP is eyeing is UP next year where it aims to form the state government, replacing the Samajwadi Party government.

The lag of one year or so will permit the Centre the opportunity to commence implementation of some of the schemes the Budget mentions. However, there may not be many takers for the government propaganda, unleashed first by the PM in one of his recent speeches, that farmers’ incomes will double in the next half a dozen years.

That means a rise of some 15 per cent per annum with nothing much to indicate a rise in agricultural productivity. But it is the political buzz that the government is after, not really action on the ground.

The Budget leaves the broad perception that the urbanised working class (which subscribes to the Employees’ Provident Fund) and the substantial middle class have no reason to be pleased with Mr Jaitley’s effort. A good chunk of this is the BJP’s standard voting constituency that will be paying out more than before by way of indirect taxes without gaining anything really by way of tax breaks, and losing out on EPF gains besides.

The trade-off is between the affections of the farmer and the urbanite, and much will depend on how the BJP and its opponents play to this dynamics.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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