Wary of losing support in rural areas, the government in the Union Budget made a policy shift to the rural sector, hoping it would help the BJP package itself as pro-farmer, and blunt criticism that the government is corporate-friendly.
BJP leaders said the Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Monday also put the government’s focus on the youth, a section that seems to be upset over the government’s inability to significantly impact the job market.
Jaitley’s Budget speech also contained ingredients to please the RSS, one of the key points on whose agenda is cow protection.
The Budget has increased allocation for agriculture and irrigation by 84 per cent, rural development and drinking water by 13 per cent, and infrastructure and energy by 22 per cent, while providing a 15 per cent increase for the Scheduled Caste sub plan.
BJP chief Amit Shah described the measures for rural India and farmers in the budget as “historic”.
“The thrust of the Budget is towards strengthening the rural and agriculture sectors and boosting employment-generation… There is a lot of focus on agriculture,” he said. “There is a proposal to double farmers’ income by 2022.”
Shah cited the allocation of Rs 2.70 lakh crore to local bodies, the decision to electrify all villages by May 1, 2018, and the allocation of over Rs 19,000 crore for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana to emphasise the focus on rural India.
While assessing the humiliating defeat in Bihar, BJP leaders have acknowledged that its image in the rural areas had been tarnished by the opposition’s “malicious campaign that the government is anti-farmer”. Repeated droughts, crop damage in natural calamities, and the rising numbers of farmers’ suicides have added to the party’s woes. In an attempt to salvage its image, the BJP has announced a series of farmers’ rallies across the country, with some of them being addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. The earlier NDA government’s defeat in 2004 too was attributed to diminished prospects in the rural sector. Although the BJP does not have high stakes in the coming assembly elections in Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the measures for farmers and rural areas could brighten its prospects in Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman said it had measures that would act as “catalysts” to create a “ripple effect” to change the dynamism of the rural economy. Home Minister Rajnath Singh congratulated Jaitley on an “excellent” Budget, which he said was “pro-farmer, pro-poor and pro-reform”.
“If the Union Budget were like annual exams for our Prime Minister, then I must say he has passed the exams with flying colours,” Singh said.