Just as much as Chidambaram must be busy brushing up his budget proposals and speech, so must the opposition – especially the BJP –and news TV channels with their crib lines. Since the budget is a big deal, the top guns in each opposition party would have been mobilized for the job. Equally, news TV channels must be sharpening their knives, as a raucous prime time show tonight is a foregone conclusion. In all of this, Chidambaram’s budget proposals will hardly matter. And an intelligent analysis is too much to ask for.
The BJP in particular must have prepared clever (and dishonest) lines for most likely budget scenarios. The party of lawyers and Brahmins is particularly adept at this. The TMC will just wait for Chidambaram to open his mouth before dashing off to the nearest TV camera to complain. So also the Left Parties, who don’t like “Paribartan” (reforms) of any type – political or economic! So predicting tonight’s TV headlines is not a particularly difficult task, and I must admit writing this post took less than ten minutes. Here’s a sample of what to expect:
If Chidambaram does achieve the 5.3% fiscal deficit revised target for the current year (most likely scenario), the BJP will scream “Government achieved this by cutting on defence spending and compromising on national security. This government is soft on terrorists”. If he misses the target, “Chidambaram doesn’t know how to run the economy”!
If Chidambaram proposes to reduce fiscal deficit to 4.8% next year (most likely scenario), the BJP’s comment could be “This government is bowing down to pressure from the ratings agencies. It has surrendered the country to inimical foreign forces”. If he proposes a higher than 4.8% number, “Chidambaram is the worst FM ever”!
If Chidambaram launches a new subsidy program (likely, though not certain), the BJP will allege that this is politics at its worst. “This is a political budget, for political gains, and it puts the country at a serious risk of a ratings downgrade”. If Chidambaram cuts subsidies (also likely, using the Direct Transfer of Benefits – Aadhar - route), the BJP will then have the opportunity to say “This government is insensitive to the needs of the poor. In a high inflation environment, the only place it found to cut was the spending on the poor” ignoring the fact that the Aadhar scheme will only cut corruption, not entitlements!
If Chidambaram introduces a tax for the super rich (a very bad idea and an unlikely scenario), the BJP would scream “This is Chidambaram’s “nightmare” budget. He is completely reversed his famed “dream” budget”. If Chidambaram decides not to increase taxation for the super rich, the argument is much easier “This government is pro-rich. When the entire world is increasing taxes on the rich, this government prefers to mollycoddle them”!
If Chidambaram adopts an aggressive disinvestment strategy (most likely scenario), the BJP will shout “This government is selling off the family silver. All the wealth our forefathers created is being frittered away by this government”. Oh sorry….a correction. They may avoid reference to the forefathers, since most of them were Congressmen! If he does not increase disinvestment targets (unlikely), the retort could be simply “The budget lacks imaginative ideas. We started the disinvestment process. This government simply does not know how to continue it”!
If Chidambaram launches new schemes in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, AP and Delhi (likely), it is because “he is only bothered with Congress governments”. If he launches similar projects in BJP ruled states (also likely), it is either because “the BJP governments are so dynamic, even the Finance Minister had to bow to them” or better “This is a political move to gain attack the BJP governments”. If he launches similar projects in UP, it’s obviously to “bribe the UP parties into supporting the government”. And if he does so in Bihar, it is to “disrupt a strong BJP-JD(U) alliance”. If he doesn’t launch any new projects anywhere at all, the “Finance minister has no vision for India”!
If Chidambaram reduces taxes for some industry segments, it is because “they have funded the Congress’s election campaign”; or better “the family has been bribed”! If he increases taxes for some other industries, it is because “they refused to fund the Congress or pay the family bribes”!
If Chidambaram makes it easy for the corporate sector to access global funding, he is “selling off the country to the foreigners”. If he doesn’t, “he is not concerned with the slowing growth and the country’s need for funds”!
If Chidambaram launches major infrastructure schemes, “all this was started by Vajpayee. This government has no new ideas” and if it doesn’t, just the latter part of the crib: “This government has no new ideas”!
In addition to the above cribs on specific points, there would be some made irrespective of anything that Chidambaram says:
- This government singularly lacks any vision. It is unfit to rule the country any longer.
- This government is anti-aam aadmi. It is unfit to rule the country any longer.
- This government is corrupt and that is why the fiscal deficit is so high. It is unfit to rule the country any longer.
- The Prime Minister is unfit to be called India’s most brilliant economist. This government is unfit to rule the country any longer. We demand the PM’s resignation for the 35th time!
What the BJP will do, most TV channels will amplify! In the hungry world of TRPs, the only way to get hold of scarce TRP crumbs is to out-crib everyone else.
See how easy it is to predict tonight’s news? That’s why Chidambaram should stop looking at TV news channels. The people of this country already have. That is why even Hindi news channels command just 5-6% of the viewership of Hindi entertainment channels. And English channels a measly 0.1%.…..
The real truth is that the real analysis of the budget will only be known in the newspapers. Forget the “analysis” provided by the TV channels tonight. One thing is certain: The BJP and the TV news channels will hit a new high on creative cribbing tonight!