Ranjona Banerji: Budget, er, Bahi Khata Blues

08 Jul,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


What was the most significant aspect of the Narendra Modi government’s first Budget of its second term? Was it some major reform announcements to boost the flailing Indian economy? Some great income tax scheme? Some massive job creation plan?

How foolish you people are. There were two main takeaways if you watched the news or tracked social media on July 5, 2019. The first was that for the first time EVER the Union Budget did not arrive in Parliament in a leather briefcase! The first time ever! Over 70 years after Independence was gained by Modi and his friends, this colonial hangover was gone! Gone! No more leather briefcases! Did you hear that? Has it sunk in? Leather briefcases – gone! Colonial hangover gone! Freedom at last!!! August 15, 1947, huh? What was that. Mark the new date. Leather briefcases. Gone.

Instead, there was a proper pink and/or red Indian cloth. Like a khata cover used by Indian merchants of old. Or of now. This Budget was a “bahi khata” or ledger and not a budget. India’s chief economic adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian said, “It is in Indian tradition. It symbolises our departure from slavery of Western thought. It is not a budget but a bahi khata.”

Mr Subramanian studied at the Booth School of Business in Chicago, that well-known breakaway institution from the slavery of Western thought. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman studied at Jawaharlal Nehru University, nowadays known for, thanks to her party and government, ah well, never mind.

The red cloth however acted as a sort of red rag to the Sensex, Nifty and all the rest of those barometers of Hindutva and Modi fans because they by, umm, tanked. However, Indian culture and tradition had been restored so all was well.

After the red cloth made its appearance, the Union Finance Minister proceeded to read the Budget speech in English, another significant departure, marking an end to India’s colonial shackles.

It is unfair to laugh because everything was quite prescient. If a Budget is supposed to lay out the course for the future and a ledger just tallies this column with that, then a ledger, sort of, is what we got. In keeping with India’s ancient storytelling traditions, we also had several flights of fancy, all kinds of trillions coming our way. No one did that better than Zee News, which in its pre-ledger shows, depicted Sitharaman as the Goddess Lakshmi bestowing goodies on us, ending with a shower of gold coins.

This came in the form of a hike in fuel prices, a cess on us for the government to rake it in. Gold itself got a higher customs duty so will in fact become less likely to be showered on us hapless citizens. GST is projected to grow at 29 per cent, which given the state GST collections as in now, well. Dream on.




Several newspapers and magazines possibly have this anti-national outlook on the Union Ledger because the benevolent government has repaid them for their very Indian chamchagiri or sycophancy in Western slavery terminology by hiking customs duties on imported newsprint by 10 per cent. This cost is likely to increase the prices of newspapers and magazines. Add that to government ads being withdrawn from some newspaper groups.




So far, these anti-nationals are not happy. It remains to be seen whether others follow them or just up the sycophancy. Sorry, chamchagiri.

While TV news programmes discussed the usual, should they have done this or that and that’s what they mean, and what they said and didn’t say, it seemed clear that this was not a very exciting Union Ledger although many liked the presentation of the Ledger. For instance, the speech and the cloth. Captains of Indian Industry gave us that fantastic “partly good” appraisal, which is Indian doublespeak for, hmm, red cloth.

However, the prize for best reporting of the Union Ledger goes to ABP News which informed its viewers that Mr Modi clapped 86 times during the Ledger Speech! Wow! Taaliya! At least 86!


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

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