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Businesslike, he had them all ears

Richa Mishra

New Delhi , Feb. 28

HE may not be the Baadshah of Bollywood, but when Mr P. Chidambaram said Main Hoon Na in his last Budget speech, he was setting the tone for what was to come.

Optimistic, upbeat and unperturbed by minor commotions, the Finance Minister meant business today, while presenting the Budget proposals for 2005-06.

The Budget speech, sans any frills, had veteran political heavyweights such as Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr L.K. Advani, Mr George Fernandes and Mr Jaswant Singh and corporate honcho-turned politicians such as Mr Anil Ambani and Mr Naveen Jindal, besides the younger members Mr Sachin Pilot and Mr Milind Deora, in rapt attention. Mr Rahul Gandhi was present in the House, but in keeping with his style, kept a low profile.

In his over-an-hour-and-half presentation, Mr Chidambaram quoted two persons - Dr Amartya Sen ("One of India's proudest sons") and his favourite poet-saint Tiruvalluvar - to emphasise this: "Health, wealth, produce, the happiness that is the result, and security. These five, the learned say, are the ornaments of a polity."

Among those present in the Lok Sabha was the Finance Minister's family, including his 85-year-old mother, Ms Lakshmi Achi, watching from the visitors' gallery. The Finance Minister's wife, Ms Nalini Chidambaram, a leading lawyer, was sitting beside her mother-in-law, flanked by other family members.

Looking mostly pleased during the speech, Ms Chidambaram was all attention when the Finance Minister spoke about direct-indirect taxes and when he attracted the Opposition's resentment over his announcement that withdrawal of Rs 10,000 from a bank on a single day would be subjected to a levy of 0.1 per cent tax or Rs 10.

This proposal received flak from the members of Lok Sabha, at the announcement stage itself, plunging the House into disorder for some time. Even before the Minister completed his announcement, the members jeered him.

The members of the treasury benches, who had cheered the Minister a while ago for restructuring the income-tax slab, also showed signs of restlessness.

The Speaker, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, finally pacified the agitated members by asking them to raise the issue during the Budget discussion.

Apart from this minor distraction, the Budget presentation was more or less a smooth affair.

But, before Mr Chidambaram rose to present the Budget, some BJP members rose to say that a privilege motion had been moved against the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, for divulging details of the Budget to the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, Ms Sonia Gandhi.

The Speaker acknowledged that he had received such a notice from Mr V.K. Malhotra (BJP); the NDA Convenor, Mr George Fernandes; and some others. "The notice is under my consideration and I will give my ruling later," he said before he called the Finance Minister to present his Budget proposals.

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