Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Jul 09, 2004
Industry & Economy
In coalition company
New Delhi , June 8
THE Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, counted as one of the top few reformers that the country can boast of, appears to have a penchant for being the FM of coalition governments. And that too those with the firm support of the Left parties from outside. So was it during the two stints of the United Front Government, first under the leadership of Mr H.D. Deve Gowda and later under Mr I.K. Gujral as the Prime Minister.
So is it now, under the stewardship of the originator of reforms in India, Dr Manmohan Singh. Which is why that after the day of diagnosis of the ills in the economy by way of the Economic Survey, on the day of prescriptions it was an extremely confident Mr Chidambaram presenting the maiden Budget of the Congress-led UPA Government.
For him, it was business as usual, having tactfully deflected the pressure from the Left in his innings at North Block before.
Rising to present the Budget for 2004-05, he initially, as could be expected, talked about the change that has to be brought about in the national priorities and the change in the manner in which the country should be run.
Obviously, it was the UPA's Bible - the National Common Minimum Programme - that had to lay the foundation of the Government's first Budget.
And while he talked of the seven clear objectives enunciated in the NCMP, there was thumping of desks. More so when he talked about what his Government plans to ensure - stress on primary education, at least up to the eighth year.
His Government, he said, would ensure that children do not leave school before eight years. And while they are in school, it would also ensure that the children do not go hungry. More thumping of desks.
All this while, the Railway Minister, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, seated behind him, had a deadpan expression on his face. In fact, his face seemed to light up only when Mr Chidambaram spoke of the bonanza package for Bihar.
Similarly, for the Left parties too, the pronouncements in the Budget, at least the initial part, were in tune with their ideologies and comfort levels.
But soon came a noticeable change, especially when the Finance Minister talked of hiking the foreign direct investment (FDI) cap in sectors such as insurance, telecom and aviation. Not much to their liking, some of the Left party members could be seen squirming in their seats.
By the time Mr Chidambaram came to the tax proposals, there was not much to thump or cheer about. Sensing that the Minister himself said that in this respect, he had some good news and some bad news.
Having said, he asked the Speaker and the House which news they would like to hear first. And when his good news came - no taxes up to a taxable income of Rs 1 lakh - one could make out what the bad news would be - status quo.
The Minister was, however, quick to take cover under the fact that he did not have much time to address these issues fully and that he would do so next year. After all, it was just a question of seven more months!
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