The close call for the BJP in Gujarat Assembly elections is reflected in the budget presented by Arun Jaitley on Thursday. There is no pretence that the budget 2018 is not aimed at the forthcoming Assembly elections in eight states this year and the crucial Lok Sabha elections, scheduled for early next year.
The focus of the budget clearly is to project the image of a government that is concerned about the rural poor and the farmers, worried about the GST-hit small businessmen, keen to spending on social sectors like health and education, and definitely not a ‘suit-boot ki sarkaar’ for the rich corporate. The last full budget of Narendra Modi government is also an effort to project its softer side as it announced schemes for women and senior citizens.
Modi, reacting to the finance minister’s budget, said that the budget promoted “ease of living”, adding the phrase to the one often used by his government – “ease of doing business”.
Sources in the BJP say that the budget provisions are based on the feedback that the government got from different quarters – from the ministers, party leaders, functionaries on the ground and the RSS. “It is apparent that the finance minister has taken into account the erosion of BJP’s rural base as it turned out in Gujarat and the agrarian crisis.
The government has realised that it stands to gain electorally only if it is seen as pro-poor and pro-farmers. It is imperative to project this image with elections in states like Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh due later this year,” a party general secretary tells Outlook.
It is, therefore, not a surprise that Jaitley assured the farmers of a Minimum Support Price (MSP) of 1.5 times the cost incurred by them in production. Prime Minister Modi termed it as “historic” decision and said it showed the government's commitment to farmers and doubling their income.
Continuing with the “ease of living” theme is the 'Ayushman Bharat' that has been termed as Modicare drawing parallels with former US President’s Obamacare health insurance scheme. “It is an unparalleled initiative to ensure health insurance as well as health assurance. Protecting 10 crore families, which is about 40 per cent of India's population, with a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh per family is a global first,” says BJP president Amit Shah.
According to a senior party leader, the relief to senior citizens was given based on a “strong pitch” made by the RSS. “A lot of senior citizens gave the feedback to the RSS that the government was extremely insensitive to their needs. All of them were retired and subsisted on interest on their savings. Not only was the rate of interest lowered on senior citizens’ savings in the last few years, they even had to pay TDS on their fixed deposits,” explains the leader.
Taking heed, Jaitley announced a lifetime relief for senior citizens from TDS on Fixed Deposits with banks and post offices up to Rs 50,000. The limit for health insurance premium and medical expenditure has also been increased up to Rs 50,000 from Rs 30,000. For certain illnesses, in case of senior citizens and very senior citizens, the limit will go up to Rs 60,000 and Rs 80,000 respectively, The concessions are expected to cost the government Rs 4,000 crore.