Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, June 22, 2009

EVEN after spending close to half a century in politics, Pranab Mukherjee still appears to have the enthusiasm and energy of a long distance runner who can’t wait for the marathon to start. Twenty five years after he presented his last Union budget in 1984 as finance minister in the Indira Gandhi government, Pranabda is back in the same office. On July 6, he will present the first budget of the UPA’s second innings. It is a personal milestone for him as well, since it will be the fourth time that he will present the annual national housekeeping statement that is eagerly looked forward to by corporate czars and the aam aadmi alike.

Mukherjee is no flash in the pan artist, so it would be foolish to expect him to come out with a financial spectacular. After nearly twenty years, we have for the first time a finance minister who is a dyed in the wool politician whose BP levels are not tied to the wild fluctuations of the Sensex. That is why there is widespread expectation that this budget will not merely carry the stamp of a politician, but one of Pranabda’s class and stature. And fortunately for him, unlike his immediate predecessor, Pranabda will not have to peek back every now and then to see if the Left is watching over his shoulders.

During the last couple of weeks, he has been holding consultations with a cross section of people, including bureaucrats, politicians both from the Congress and major opposition parties, corporate honchos, trade union leaders, bankers and the like for political and financial inputs for the many initiatives that he plans to unveil. So while both the aam aadmi and the corporates are keeping their fingers crossed on the actual contents of the budget, my information is that he is placing a premium on the political inputs. All of which leads to me to believe that, with the Congress still in election victory mode, the budget document may turn out to be a voluminous Thank You note to the poor and the lower and middle classes who stood massively behind the UPA. Knowing the general mood in the country and to some extent Pranabda’s own strong beliefs, I have the feeling that when he unveils the budget, the corporates may not exactly be whistling with joy. Pranabda will, in all probability, focus on placing more money in the hands of the lower and middle classes so that they have the power to purchase. A firm nonbeliever in the “ supply creates Predecessor: PC its own demand” theory, his emphasis will instead be on demand creation which has always been a guiding testament for him. He is said to have identified over a dozen sectors where he is likely to unleash a multi- crore spending spree to create lakhs of jobs. The tax cuts and other such incentives that business leaders are looking forward to may not materialise to the extent of their liking and you can be sure India Inc will not be sending him Thank You notes on the evening of July 6. He won’t mind either. From experience spanning half a century, he knows corporates are not the best allies.

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