» Business » Goyal mimes, Athawale struggles, Rahul gets serious

Goyal mimes, Athawale struggles, Rahul gets serious

By Aditi Phadnis
February 02, 2017 14:29 IST
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The finance minister’s Budget presentation is a sombre affair, yes, but it wasn’t as if the Lok Sabha was all serious through the speech.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

Union Budgets are contested affairs, and the contest over the 2017-18 Budget began late Tuesday evening, with the debate over whether it should be postponed by a day in deference to the death of Indian Union Muslim League MP E Ahamed.

Finance ministry sources said sombrely that though Ahamed was dangerously ill, medical technology needed to be given a chance. It seemed that his death would be made public only after the Budget had been presented.

But the mood changed on Tuesday morning; the doctors declared him dead.

It became clear that the government was determined to go ahead with the Budget presentation, but that the opposition wanted to prevent it, citing the convention that the house adjourns on the death of a sitting MP. The tug of war, unseemly as it was surreal, created unlikely allies on the floor of the house.

As soon as the Lok Sabha assembled, the Congress said it smelt a conspiracy in Ahamed’s death. Communist Party of India-Marxist member Mohammed Salim was at the forefront in demanding the Budget be deferred. This was bizarre in itself; The CPI-M and the IUML (which gets 15 or so seats in the Kerala assembly and is a force in Malabar) were political partners in the 1960s, but bitter rivals now.

Finally, to show their disapproval of the government’s action (and with an eye to Muslims all over India) all MPs from Kerala barring Shashi Tharoor (Thiruvananthapuram) in the Lok Sabha walked out as Arun Jaitley began reading.

Considering that it had won a victory, the mood in the treasury benches seemed to be somewhat deflated.

Twice, Power Minister Piyush Goyal had to turn to his party colleagues to mime table-thumping -- as if to tell them they needed to greet the Budget announcement with more enthusiasm. He himself thumped the table vigorously. His colleagues just stared back impassively.

It was when the announcement was made about confiscation of assets of economic offenders that the treasury benches roared their appreciation

Particularly down in the mouth were two railway ministers, former and current, sitting side by side -- Sadananda Gowda and Suresh Prabhu. Both looked mournful as Jaitley explained why there was no Railway Budget.

The minister of state for social justice, Ramdas Athawale, got up to say something twice -- but was so incoherent that he was made to sit down by his neighbour.

News that foreign portfolio investors in Category I and II had been spared from the indirect transfer provision brought a smile to the face of Jayant Sinha, minister of state for civil aviation.

Few have noticed that there is now a ladies row in the Lok Sabha, populated mostly by the women MPs of the BJP. Meenakshi Lekhi and Kirron Kher were in animated conversation when Jaitley announced an additional 10% surcharge on those whose income is above Rs 50 lakh annually.

There was an animated discussion in the opposition benches as well. Rahul Gandhi was in almost constant conversation with Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath, on either side, apparently deep in a political discussion.

Gandhi swallowed laughter and rearranged his features to look serious when Jaitley flagged issues of bio-toilets in Indian trains to dispose of solid waste.

It was when the announcement was made about confiscation of assets of economic offenders that the treasury benches roared their appreciation

But the sweetest feature of the budget presentation was the presence of Jaitley’s family in the visitor’s gallery.

His wife smiled widely and affectionately as her husband, the finance minister, read out poetry. His Budget got a forceful thumbs-up from his daughter, Sonali.

A family that bonds over budgets together, stays together!

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Aditi Phadnis
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