A year as finance minister has greyed Yashwant Sinha dramatically. His head, merely speckled with white at the time of his first Union Budget, is now uniform snow. The stress of being in the North Block hot seat at a time of particular uncertainty and gloom must have contributed. His repeated statements that industrial growth would revive, soon, next month, in a couple of months, very soon, have not proved true. As the government has lurched from one crisis to another, the economy has sputtered and stumbled. The many policy decisions that should have had some positive effect have sunk without a ripple. The most-often-asked question in the country today is how long this government will last. As Sinha prepared Budget 99, the fact that this was almost certainly the last Budget he would ever present would surely have preyed on his mind.
Strangely enough, the Budget he has presented does not look like one prepared by a fragile government on the brink of collapse. Instead, it's more like what a government confident of staying in power for five years would do in its second year in office: low on overt populism, high on income tax, with several programmes which will bear fruit only a few years from now.