By Sushil Kutty
What does the 2023-24 budget mean for the BJP in fighting the coming polls, including the nine in 2023, and the one in 2024? A simple question, with a simple answer: Budget 2023-24 has been drafted as a saviour! The BJP wants to win as many of the nine assembly elections as possible and a third consecutive Modi term. The problem is, the BJP-led Modi government’s record on certain key economic parameters haven’t been up to mark and requires some convincing.
Jobs, for instance. Unemployment has been at its highest in 45 years for nine straight Modi years. And no amount of criticism made a difference to the Modi-mindset on this issue. The promise to deliver crores of jobs at general elections 2019 wasn’t kept. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll promises are mostly kept in the breach.
Budget 2023, therefore, had to change the perception, check all the right boxes. The Modi-friendly media was all Lady Gaga, so to speak. One panelist gave Budget 2023-24 10/10. Another plateaued at 8/10. Yet another named it a “Workhorse Budget”. Flip, and the Congress called Budget 2023-24 a “poll manifesto”, an “election budget”, which perhaps hit the nail on the head.
The Aam Aadmi Party mentioned the promise made of 50 new airports, and asked “who will build those airports?” Was Gautam Adani glued to the TV set? The Samajwadi Party said Budget 2023-24 was a “pack of lies”. The BJP-led Modi Government cannot complain, and must have expected the disparaging notes to the Opposition’s song sung blue.
The thing to note was that nine years of Modi has ensured there were very few media left to make an impartial review. That being said, the BJP and the Modi government knew they had one last chance to make sure yet another term. So, the budget focuses on farmers. It puts the needle on the MSMEs in a post-Covid scenario. It puts the lens on the Middle Class.
Budget 2023 makes an appeal to the Middle Class to keep voting the BJP with a slew of personal income tax sops. The Middle Class has of late been a little displeased with the Modi government. The income tax concessions, the BJP hopes will correct the incorrect impression.
It has long been held that the Middle Class helps snatch victory from the jaws of electoral defeats. More money in Middle Class pockets keep a big section of the electorate friendly.
Farmers are another crucial constituency which the BJP could not ignore if it wanted to win 2024. The devil is in the details. The farmer hasn’t been happy with the Modi regime. The 3-farm laws are history, but the scars remain and Modi’s MSP promise hasn’t been kept. Budget 2023-24 was yet another chance to bring the farmers around.
However, Budget 2023-23 actually saw farmers ignored all over again. Experts say farmers haven’t got their due with this budget, too. There is no sight of the MSP. And farmers’ schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Fazal Bhima Yojana are on the verge of falling off the cliff. Perhaps, the Modi government continues to believe that 80 percent of India’s farmers were for the 3-farm laws and would vote for the BJP.
Another poll issue which Budget 2023-24 could not overlook was jobs and unemployment. Both have throughout the nine Modi years been in the red. And BJP spokespersons steered clear of coming clean on both jobs, and unemployment. Budget 2023 was another chance for the BJP and the Modi government to change the perception that the Modi government was a slacker when it came to jobs.
The slew of BJP election manifestoes expected in 2023, and the one in 2024, will likely clear the fog. Modi recently said that an additional 10 lakh jobs would be created. Budget 2023-24 is yet another chance for the BJP to turn the perception around.
Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has placed the issue of jobs and unemployment square and centre of the assembly elections 2023, and general elections 2024. The BJP would not be able to evade the implications if Budget 2023-24 failed to garner jobs.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, despite five budgets in five years, has had little so far to celebrate. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target of 400-plus seats in the 18th Lok Sabha. Therefore, it was incumbent upon Sitharaman to salvage the chances of a third term for Modi from the Covid mess which still dogs BJP.
Budget 2023-24 is decidedly political with Sitharaman doing everything at her command to ensure that the sun continued to shine on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A big part of Sitharaman’s last full budget and Amrit Kaal’s first was to use government outlays to fund sectors which usually, in an ideal world, help win elections.
From the infrastructure push to the “green projects”. The BJP knows its many Achilles Heel. On many fronts. Farmers still carry a grudge against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The 3-farm laws are dead in water, but the promise of MSP hasn’t been kept. Budget 23-24 has sought to correct this lacuna.
Budget 2023 has also set aside money for a ‘Tribal fund’, and a ‘Mahila fund’. The income tax rebates will deliver votes for the BJP. But direct taxes are falling and indirect taxes are rising. The Finance Minister was aware that she could not take chances with this last full budget of the 17th Lok Sabha.
The changes in income tax slabs and subsidy for electricity were expected. And expectations were high. A 7 percent GDP growth rate for 2023-24 will help the BJP in 2024 if another global downturn does not intervene.
The simple truth is, it’s a budget for Modi, a budget for a third term for Modi. It wasn’t a “Budget for India”. From now on to the first and the last of the nine assembly elections of 2023, things would move at an electric pace faced with manifestoes galore from all parties concerned, the Modi government could not have missed the opportunity to use the budget to win 2023, and 2024. (IPA Service)