The FM inquisition
Three former finance ministers -- Professor Madhu Dandavate, Dr Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram -- hauled the incumbent over the coals during a television interview. And this is what they had to say:
Dr Manmohan Singh: I have a feeling that this is a half-Budget. It will be followed by a supplementary, for I don't see any provisions for effect of sanctions... By and large I don't see the BJP living up to what it promised the people. They have disowned what they have promised in their election manifesto.
Chidambaram thinks the Budget is a timid effort with no big ideas. He also thinks it is a protectionist Budget.
Dandavate felt the finance minister has said that May 11 was the first test, June 1 is the next. "Unconsciously, he has conceded that there is correlation between the tests and the budget. There were sanctions against India. As far as the common man is concerned, the wealth tax, standard deduction etc do not concern him; he is concerned only with inflation. And here, it is inflationary...
Former finance minister and deputy chaireman of the Planning Commission Jaswant Singh: I always found that former finance ministers do not find what their successor has done to be good enough... In fact, this Budget is exactly a charter that was laid down by the national agenda for governance...
Manmohan Singh says this is "the first time in the history of the Indian Budget, that the finance minister has not mentioned the growth target, inflation target he has in mind, export target he has on his mind. I am worried about the Budget on many accounts, the deficit worry, the interest rate, balance of payment worry..."
And Yashwant Sinha retorts: "What is the point of fixing targets and not sticking to them? Like in previous years, I could have fixed targets and not kept to them. It is easy to be here and say industry will not pick up... but I am confident that industrial growth will pick up.
"I have said in my interim Budget speech that the reform process will be taken forward. Why are we not talking about PSU reform? That is a good thing. Why are we talking of only things one doesn't like?"
Jaswant Singh says, "When it comes to the principle of it, if there is a fall in capital expenditure, it is worrisome. But as the Budget unfolds, I am sure it will not be a game of figures in terms of capital expenditure."
According to Chidambaram, "The UF government was buffeted from all sides. All the parties addressed a rally asking for more pay, and we conceded. But the other half of the Pay Commission's recommendations, cutback on staff, cutback on holidays is still pending. The finance minister should have grabbed the chance to implement them."
Sinha: "What Chidambaram is saying is that he will give out the lollipops, and it is up to me to give the bitter pill..."
"There must be a long-term perspective. When we launched our reforms process, we had a long-term perspective. There must be a vision, we must keep in view the emerging challenges," says Manmohan Singh. "The Budget worries me, it does not outline a strategy to stimulate growth -- it is half-hearted. It does not consider external environment which the finance minister in fact mentioned, but which (the Budget) does not take into account."
Chidambaram sums up for the rest: "He has not addressed four issues -- cost of sanctions, fears of investment, growth rate and export rate."