The economic aspects of the budget presented by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman may be a subject of disputation, but the political dimensions of the nation’s annual financial blueprint cannot be in serious doubt.
The first of these is inherent in the person of the minister herself. It is unlikely that the country’s first woman leader to present the budget will go unnoticed as a phenomenon. This could potentially go beyond symbolism and have an electoral dividend among womenfolk in the country.
The firmer political constituency the budget seems to address in no uncertain terms is the elastic middle class, and it makes no bones about it. The gains for this class are conspicuous, with taxable incomes up to `5 lakhs a year being exempt.
In rural areas the declared direction of the budget to focus on infrastructure that will support agri-business can potentially find backers even if the objectives take time to materialise. Hope and symbolism can go a long way.
If the Sitharaman budget openly seeks to woo the influential middle class, the foundation for this was laid by the Modi government before the election to the 17th Lok Sabha when reservation in education and government jobs were offered for the first time to the so-called “general category”, which basically meant the upper caste, making a mockery of the conceptual basis of the reservation scheme envisaged by the Constituent Assembly.
This particular direction of the Modi government was confirmed by the decisions taken by the very first meeting of the Union cabinet after the new government was formed to provide for pensions to ageing traders. Earlier a pension scheme was announced for farmers, many of whom form the rural middle classes.