Sunday, March 02, 2008

Vox Populi - "budget for the common man"

It depends on who the "common man" is. The Union finance minister P Chidambaram (PC) presented the 2008 budget in parliament yesterday and the question I ask is - did the minister make history by presenting a budget for the ordinary man. It would be a landmark when you consider that no budget in the history of mankind has been poor-man friendly. Maybe an exception is the budget presented by Mahabali, the legendary Asura king who ruled Kerala.

But he did create history, according to our prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. " The government has made a generous gesture in announcing a loan waiver for farmers. It has given Income-Tax relief to the middle class. It is an 'aam aadmi' budget. It is pro-investment and Pro-agriculture budget," said the economist.

The budget is pro-investment - yes. If by investment the honourable leader means disinvestment in the public sector. But is it pro-agriculture, pro-common man?.... Not in your wildest of dreams.

Define the common Indian Mr. prime minister. By any yardstick, I would say the common Indian is the majority Indian. Not the billions of our fellow countrymen who follow Hinduism. My brother, now-a-days the citizens are divided not into religious classes but economic ones.

The common Indian is the Sathyaseelan I see lying on the street, after a day of hard toil under the hot Chennai sun. He has no roof of his own, his annual income is Rs. 11000/=, way below the Rs. 1.5 lakh ceiling for taxation.

Sathya represents a class, which forms almost 60 per cent of the 100 billion. The common man like him won't be munching on corn flakes for breakfast or run to the nearest car showroom because the manufacturer has cut down the prizes of small and hybrid cars - another gift for the "aam aadmi".

Maybe Sathya should buy a car and live in it since he doesn't have a house to call his own.

PC has handed a lifeline to the struggling farmers, waiving their loans, to stop them from taking their lives. A generous gesture. But he forgot one basic fact. He can't waive the loans those poor souls have taken from Shylocks. It is the local private money-lenders who harass the 'son's of earth' to such an extend that they give up on God's one and only true gift - life. So waiving bank loans, doesn't make the picture rosy, but rather makes it more grim as ultimately all the waivers put pressure on the tax payers, the middle class, for whom the finance minister has presented such a populist budget.

From the time PC got involved in our country's finances, his so called success mantra was disinvestment. The populist budget has provisions to continue this selling culture - this time the focus on oil fields, insurance, among others.

"Oh my Mother India". That's not me who cried, it was the Father of the Nation turning in his grave. Don't sell her, our mother, to neo East India companies and Harvard B-school graduates.

PC has shown one more time that he is a quintessential capitalist, who will be more at home running a MNC than the multi-billion strong ethnically and economically variant country like ours. But who knows; all the disinvestment and "open" strategies he uses could even burn Microsoft Corporation's arse if he runs it.

Ultimately who is to be blamed. We should decide whether to let Naturalised citizens, failed economists, buffalo wranglers, hard-core capitalists, fascists, actors, old-world Marxists and power brokers to run our mother land.

But we really don't have any other choice. The cream of our Nation has left and are wandering in the Silicon Valley in search of the promise land, in the process, helping the likes of Bill Gates make millions.

But even if the "nerd brigade" comes back, one thing will remain the same. There will never be a "common man's budget". Vox Populi - never here...