Ranjona Banerji: Budget 2018: From ‘A-ha’ to ‘Uh-oh’ moments

02 Feb,2018

By Ranjona Banerji


Given the lacklustre

​B​udgets from Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for the last four years, was there really any expectation from this one? The last ​Budget before India goes into election mode? Several predicted that this would be an election ​Budget and to some extent they were correct. But more than anything else, at the end of the day, this was neither an election ​Budget nor a very effective ​Budget.
It took our brave news channels some time to figure this out. First it was all about whether Jaitley would speak in only English or Hindi or both or this or that. In the New India much loved by our news channels, anything that reeks of token nationalism must be applauded. After some time, Jaitley seemed to stick to English so that was the end of that Vande Mataram moment, which don’t tell anyone, is not in Hindi and was not written by a Hindi-speaking person.

Some were so excited by the new announcement of a National Heathcare scheme. Others were upset by the reintroduction of long-term capital gains tax on investments after 13 years. Almost everyone was upset by the fact that not enough was done for farmers. A few brave people pointed out that not enough had been done for manufacturing or job creation either.

On NDTV, Prannoy Roy (the rare occasions that one of India’s most popular anchors appears on TV,

​Budgets and elections) was first all about the “A-ha” moment but later in the day added quite a few “Uh-oh” caveats to the healthcare idea. Primarily because no one knew where the money was coming from. To counter Roy’s criticism – and this is my conjecture – anchor Vikram Chandra cut short anyone who criticised the ​Budget or was not from the BJP to allow a pro-BJP person or member to have their say. In fake journalism gobbledygook this is known as being “balanced”.
Rahul Kanwal on India Today for the short while that I watched that channel was reasonably balanced. Times Now also had a few critical numbers floating the TV screen about in the morning but by the evening, some of the anchors had that look of beatific gratification whenever someone from the BJP spoke. If you turn off the sound – in any case, no one says anything worthwhile anyway – it is a fun game to play because you will know when the anchor receives benediction from the BJP and when it is some devilish person from another party or persuasion speaking. Arnab Goswami of Republic TV looked very smug at some point and that is when, dear reader, I gave up and started reading the various analyses instead.

Agricultural distress will not be alleviated, manufacturing has no impetus, job growth was barely mentioned in the Budget, the rising fiscal deficit is worrying and no one understands where the money for the healthcare scheme will come from. It was pointed out that similar schemes exist all over India so there was nothing new in this one either. Across all TV channels by the way, the word “jumla” was liberally used. I beg forgiveness from rightwing bigots for my use of the word “liberally” but in this context, it has a slightly different meaning than the red

​-f​​lagged “liberal”.
The long-term capital gains tax was a downer, the fact that the middle classes had been ignored was another and as far as I’m concerned, the use of the term “grandfathered” led me into the dark areas of management and fiscal jargon that I usually avoid. The mangling of language in these sectors could do with a drastic budgetary cut as far as I’m concerned.

Meanwhile, after the dust settles, India’s media has to figure out how to play the five poll results which also came out on February 1, running alongside the Budget. The Congress won all three in Rajasthan, the Trinamool Congress won both in Bengal. The small consolation for Bhakt News Channels is that the BJP came a distant second in Bengal, ahead of the Left and the Congress. Don’t tell them I said this but eventually someone will factor in the possibility of Opposition coalitions against the BJP and look at the results in Bengal in that light. Nidhi Razdan had a very civilised show on the elections results on NDTV, a welcome break from all the Budget coverage.


Lastly, the new allegations that two people who Judge BH Loya confided in about his misgivings about the Amit Shah case died mysteriously, and one just managed to survive a freak accident, have received little traction in the media and especially very little on television. Given that the Supreme Court hearings into Loya’s death begin today, that is indeed surprising or is it?

No prizes for guessing that one right. I only know this much. Both my grandfathers would have been surprised and that is ample proof that I don’t understand what I’m talking about. Or do I?


​Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia.​ The views here are her own



Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.