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Budget: Of Pranab's quips and Rahul's absence

Last updated on: February 28, 2011 19:31 IST

Budget: Of Pranab's quips and Rahul's absence

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Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's Budget presentation on Monday was in sharp contrast to his colleague Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's disorderly and oft-disrupted performance, with the Lok Sabha hearing his speech, peppered with his trademark humour, in rapt attention.

A few minutes into his speech, Mukherjee expressed hope for a good harvest, saying, "While, like last year, I seek the blessings of Lord Indra to bestow on us timely and bountiful monsoons, I would pray to Goddess Lakshmi as well. I think it is a good strategy to diversify one's risks."

This drew laughter from the ruling party but Tathagata Sathpathy (Biju Janata Dal) quipped, "Why are you communal? What about Christ and Allah? Mamata Banerjee, whose railway Budget presentation on Firday was done amid disorder and commotion in the House, was busy making sketches on a paper during the Budget presentation.

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Image: A businessman takes notes during a televised speech by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the Budget.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
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She often exchanged notes with her party whip Sudip Bandopadhyaya about her drawing skills.

Only the announcement of Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) for an international award for promotion of universal brotherhood in memory of Rabindranath Tagore made her take note.

When Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh pointed out the announcement to her, she made a face.

Ostensibly, the award was aimed at West Bengal voters who will exercise their franchise in a couple of months when the Assembly elections take place in the state.

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Image: Mamata Banerjee speaks before giving the final touches to the Railway Budget in New Delhi.
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
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After announcing the same figure of Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) for different schemes, Mukherjee said, "Hon'ble members may be curious as to why all these new initiatives are being launched with an allocation of Rs 300 crore.

"Well, the number 3 happens to be my lucky number."

Later, some members were heard saying-tongue firmly in cheek- that Mukherjee could have been referring to his no. 3 position in the United Progressive Alliance after Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

Mukherjee's announcement that the government had formed a group of ministers to consider measures for tackling corruption invited some derisive comments from the Opposition.

While one member shouted 'bogus', another said sarcastically, "A Raja ko chairman banao (make Raja chairman of the GOM)."

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Image: Sonia Gandhi speaks with Pranab Mukherjee as India's PM Singh watches in New Delhi.
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters
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BJP, which has been trying to make inroads into the Jammu and Ladakh region by espousing the cause of locals, expressed disatisfaction over allocation of only Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) for Ladakh and Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion) for Jammu by the minister.

When Mukherjee said the Census exercise was on since February 9, Ganesh Singh (Bharatiya Janata Party) interrupted, saying, "It is being done against some of the promises made."

He was referring to inclusion of caste in the exercise. Frequent sipping of water by the minister made a member comment, 'Tired' but Mukherjee retorted, 'Not yet.'

When the finance minister announced Rs 500,000 tax exemption limit for those above 80 years, Mukherjee added, "I am yet to reach 80."

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Image: Retirement communities like Ashiana Utsav in Bhiwadi, outside Delhi, target affluent Indian seniors.
Photographs: Reuters
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This made Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj turn to her senior colleague L K Advani, who is 83 now, and say, 'this is for you', but he did not react.

Mukherjee also contributed to green technology, reducing customs duty on solar lanterns to 5 per cent from 10 per cent.

This made a member tell Lalu Prasad, whose party Rashtriya Janata Dal's symbol is the lantern, "Your lantern will become cheap."

At one point, when Mukherjee reached for water, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has earlier served under him, handed him the glass.

Attendance during the Budget speech was conspicously less with several seats from both Opposition and Treasury benches lying vacant.

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Image: Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Photographs: Ranjan Basu/Saab Pictures
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On a couple of benches, just one or two members were sitting- a very rare sight during any Budget presentation.

Conspicous among the absentees were Rahul Gandhi and Suresh Kalmadi.

Gandhi's youth brigade remained mostly non-serious while Mukherjee was speaking. While Deepender Singh Hooda made a sketch on a piece of paper and wrote 2-G (a reference to the Telecom scam) and passed it on to Sachin Pilot, others like R P N Singh and Jitin Prasada cracked jokes among themselves.

Some members fell asleep during the one hour, 45 minute speech.

Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav (Bharatiya Janata Party), a former union minister, slept on the third row of the main Opposition bench.

Another member in the back benches used the pillar as a head-rest.

Mukherjee's son, daughter-in-law and daughter were present during his third Budget presentation.


Image: Rahul Gandhi.

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