Let the budget be

Opposition to advancing the Union budget on account of assembly elections is misplaced

By: Editorial | Published: January 6, 2017 12:19 am

A united Opposition has approached the Election Commission (EC) seeking postponement of the presentation of the Union Budget for 2017-18 till the completion of polls to the five state assemblies, for which the schedule has already been announced. The primary argument advanced by these parties is that the Narendra Modi government would use the budget, which it wants to present on February 1, to dole out various sops to “allure” voters while these polls are held between February 4 and March 8. This, they say, would give an unfair advantage to the ruling party at the Centre. In fact, the very decision by this government to advance the presentation of the budget from the normal date of February 28 till now has been made with a view to influence voters, it is alleged. To buttress its point, the Opposition has also cited the precedent of the last 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. The Union budget was, then, presented on March 16, by which time the poll process had already been completed.

The Opposition’s reasoning is facile, not the least because it assumes the gullibility of the Indian voter; that she will be easily swayed by populist schemes and announcements days before the polling day. Empirical evidence doesn’t suggest such fickle voter behaviour. The verdicts in successive elections, if at all, point to voters both ruthlessly ejecting out governments as well as re-electing them. In either case, they seem to exercise judgement based on some long-term performance metrics. Even the most attractive sop has been known to be assessed based not on overnight announcement, but actual delivery on the ground that takes time. But even supposing that the voter does respond to short-term allurements, the question can be thrown back to the Opposition: Can a popularly elected government at the Centre be denied the right to make announcements, populist or otherwise, during its tenure just because of state-level elections?

It raises a fundamental issue. Every year, there are assembly elections during which the EC’s Model Code of Conduct comes into effect and which is also applicable to the Centre insofar as announcements or policy decisions pertain to the states concerned. In 2014, this code was in force for over a month, while in 2015 and 2016, these extended to more than two months and two-and-half months respectively. The current round of polls, too, would stretch for over a month. Simply put, it means that during the five years of any government at the Centre, there will be at least nine months cumulatively over which assembly elections to various states take place. Should policy paralysis for these months be a prerequisite for the holding of free and fair elections? Surely, this is not what the drafters of our Constitution had in mind.

 

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  1. A
    Ajit
    Jan 6, 2017 at 5:26 pm
    Good Article. lt;br/gt;I support this view as pointed by the writer. Fact is that the party in power has the tendency to lure voters with public money and when they sit in the opposition, they feel insecure. If 9 vital months we waste for election than I would say it is the failure of Indian Consution, I political system as a w.
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    1. R
      Rajiv
      Jan 7, 2017 at 1:42 am
      logic given by the opposition is lopsided in the favour of politics wherein, the economic angle stands skipped. Advancement of the date for the Union Budget 2017 by one month means that the estimates will now be based on the data available for first two quarters only. Earlier, advanced estimates used to be released in February and included estimates for three quarters. Since, for budget 2017 guesstimates are made on the basis of advanced estimates released in January, it means that effects of major developments (US raising of interest rates, rising oil prices, demonetization etc.) that took place in the third quarter remain elusive, either fully or partially. Thus, how the approximation goes needs to be gauged.
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        veer
        Jan 7, 2017 at 1:56 am
        but in 2012 the upa govt and present president and the then finance minister did postpone the budget after opposition demand...so why cant they do the same now when there is a concern by the opposition?
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