India's Budget 2018: BJP takes cue from Gujarat results, Arun Jaitley has schemes to bolster ‘rural-friendly’ image


NEW DELHI, Feb. 1: Minutes after Arun Jaitley concluded his budget speech, BJP leaders walking in the corridors of Parliament started praising the India's Union Budget as “pro-farmers and pro-poor.” Going by his speech – he has repeated the farmer 22 times and agriculture 15 times – Jaitley’s fourth budget in the NDA-II stood for farmers and thereby politically correct. The first half of Jaitley’s speech, according to many, was a political speech.

The ruling BJP hopes the repetition of these and the words like MSME, Universal Health Program and jobs would help the government to disarm the Opposition and project itself as a poor-friendly government.

Party chief Amit Shah was quick to emphasis on the political points. In a series of tweets, Shah said: “This budget gives new wings to the aspirations of the poor, farmers and the middle class. The #NewIndiaBudget will truly empower all sections of the society to attain prosperity…The record allocation to the rural sector and agriculture will lead to unprecedented rural development and agricultural growth. Consistent focus on rural development and agriculture has been a hallmark of our Government.”

Learning lessons from Gujarat, the BJP bastion where the party’s tally has come down drastically, the BJP wanted a budget that would prop up its rural friendly face ahead of the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as well as the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP has had a close shave in the just concluded electoral battle in Gujarat and the reason attributed was the ire of the farmers. The disillusioned farmers reminded the BJP leaders about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of an MSP that would cover production cost plus 50 per cent. The poll-bound Madhya Pradesh also witnessed violent farmers’ agitation for procurement and higher MSP for their farm produces.

“BJP could not afford ignoring the anger among the farmers,” said a senior party leader claiming that the budget presented by Jaitley on Thursday. In the first minute of his 105-minutes-speech, Jaitley said: “We have taken up programmes to direct the benefits of structural changes and good growth to reach farmers, poor and other vulnerable sections of our society and to uplift the under-developed regions.”

Assuring that his government is committed to the welfare for the farmers, the FM reiterated that the emphasis was “on generating higher incomes” for farmers. “We consider agriculture as an enterprise and want to help farmers produce more from the same land parcel at lesser cost and simultaneously realize higher prices for their produce. Our emphasis is also on generating productive and gainful on-farm and non-farm employment for the farmers and landless families.”

For BJP, which is gearing up for elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh later this year, farming community is crucial. “Not just that the party has to address the criticism as well as concerns over the job issue,” added the party leader.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government coming under severe criticism for its failure in generating employment as he had promised during the campaign ahead of 2014 elections, Jaitley had a special session on employment generation. While he talked about the tax exemption for job generating sectors, his emphasis on MSME sector in the budget and the move to reduce corporate tax rate are seen as steps to boost entrepreneurship and job creation.

The big announcement on the new flagship program, National Health Protection Scheme to cover over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families providing coverage upto Rs 5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization, could be the most talked about scheme during the election campaign. The party hopes other measures like increased outlays for SC and ST, free gas connection for eight crore more poor women and the measures for fisheries and animal husbandry sectors also could capture the imagination of rural voters in the upcoming elections.

For Karnataka, which is set to go for polls before April, Jaitley has announced a suburban network of approximately 160 kilometers at an estimated cost of Rs 17,000 crore for Bengaluru metropolis. TIE

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