The difficulties of being “right” in India

Ok.. since some of you asked, here is a summary view of the budget 2017.

At some level, I think this budget highlights the difficulty of being “right wing” in India, at least from an economic perspective, given our voter demographics. If you look at the income tax tweaking in this budget which targets the “rich” and gives sops to the lowest slab, reduction in corporate tax for msme but not for larger companies and the focusing of schemes primarily towards rural and disadvantaged sections of society etc., it is clear that they have to send out a signal that they are “poor-friendly” and not a government for the rich/corporates. Unlike the US where the Republican party can be openly big business friendly, in India everyone has to be seen as maintaining an arms length from big business.
Clearly it is also impossible for governments in India to resist the temptation of trying to control everything and playing “mai-baap” to the people. So minimum government is pretty much a pipe dream. As the schemes and projects line up, so do legions of bureaucracy to support them. There has clearly been little leeway to either consolidate or do away with schemes that target multiple subsidies towards specific sectors. If anything allocations have increased, including to MGNREGA, which was mocked roundly by this very govt at some stage.
Having said that, it is also worth noting that the govt has avoided the tendency to throw outright sops even in a tough election year and have focused investments towards enablement programs rather than handouts. Thus maintaining fiscal discipline, which is a welcome change from the old UPA style “loan write offs” etc. which essentially buys votes today at the cost of the economy in the future. There also seems to be an underlying theme emerging that “tech” can be the platform to change the status quo and transform the country. This is not just through e-payments, but also through various initiatives announced for mobility, digitization and automation of govt processes. E.g. the swayam platform for virtual learning, the “DigiGaon” initiatives, automating of defense travel and pensions etc. The “JAM” (Jandhan-Adhaar-Mobility) focus is still very much a priority.
There also seems to have been some recognition that the real estate sector is under stress. But perhaps some of that was desirable, and so we see a calibrated response to ease stress on developers holding on to inventories by reducing the long term holding definition and giving a tax holiday for presumed rental income on unsold flats etc.
Overall the sense one also gets from the last two budgets is that this government is consciously trying to reduce the importance assigned to Budgets as big one-time events. One now sees a pattern where broad directions are announced and specific announcements follow through later. Clearly, this is a government pre-occupied with elections and unsure of how much bitter medicine the masses can take, after the demonetization shock. So they seem to have played it reasonably safe.
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