There are aspects to this pragmatic-reformist Budget that dont make sense. Its rhetorical shyness is one such. Yes,the purpose of the Union Budget is to map out the Central governments plans for revenue and expenditure that require Parliaments acquiescence; the argument that,thus,the finance minister while presenting it need not steal other ministers thunder by announcing their reform-friendly projects has been made,and understood. But that,alone,might be insufficient to explain aspects of Pranab Mukherjees 2009 Budget speech. Then there is the other argument: that subtlety about reform is politically expedient,and the way that actual reform will get done. That may not explain it either. But the argument deserves to be dealt with.
It is time the government internalised the fact that boldly spelling out the case for reform is not going to be politically disastrous. If it believes that the response to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme,or to other social sector schemes it may have laid out in UPA-I,was what gave it another term,then the obvious point is: are those not the by-products of reform and growth? There will not be a single rational voice in the government that would disagree. Are those voices so unsure of their political prowess that they feel they cannot sell a product that people desperately want a better,more efficient government assisting them more effectively to the people that want it? Surely not.
Then why this shyness about talking reform? There appears to be no hesitation in repeatedly praising Indira Gandhis bank nationalisation,which was disastrous for the three decades before the crash of last September (and still holds India back); why not come out and praise the 1991 Budget of the current prime minister as being the root cause of the vast increase in living standards for Indias electorate? There are few voters that will disagree that they are much better off than they or their parents were in 1991. Not taking credit for that is puzzling politics. The Congresss commitment to the social sector and to rural India has been expressly spelled out. The party must now make the case,outside and inside its own councils,that commitment to the social sector and commitment to bold reform nowhere,no-how contradict each other. Come out of the closet,make the assertion,win the argument: reforms are about the aam admi.