In a few hours from now, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will tell us how she plans to manage the country’s coffers over the next 12 months. For more than one reason, budget 2020 has to be real and grounded, as in bringing back faith in the government’s capacity to run a country India’s size. And there’s no better way than managing money that can show. All else is detail.
Like millions of Indians, I am not holding my breath, but I am holding out hope – when hope is lost, everything else it. I get the sense that this time around if there is an absence of sustained dialogue during and after the budget with people, it will be the beginning of a conversation of, for and by India’s young, weary of being either ignored or taken for granted as vote banks.
I consume a budget like I consume technology and other domains that affect my life closely. Unexceptional. I am not an economist and people more qualified will comment on and crunch the numbers as they roll out on Saturday. Over the past six months, I have been reading texts on law and money and people’s relations to both in the context of their nations and their relationships with it. Trust binds both. It has to be earned.
Translated, it means it is the government’s job to enable the country and its people to legally make money, thrive and build a strong nation because it is our right and our responsibility. People I meet want neither doles nor patronage, much less excuses. All they seek is an opportunity to work, grow and contribute to the country with pride and happiness. Patriotism is not just about carrying a flag – it is also about building national character and India’s young want to lead. Set them free not with economic opportunities.
No one is looking for a magic wand. We want a budget with neat and clean numbers that will tell us how we can become individually and nationally richer (reviving growth), what are the investments in sectors that spur the economy as well as giving a fillip to public health and education. The last two are critical if we want to go from being a developing to a developed nation. A sick nation will never be a happy nation. Investments in health are not costs. Not investing in health will become an unbearable one. India’s double burden of disease is no secret.
Beyond that, there’s a pivotal point to be made. It revolves around the need to ensure money that it is not a thief. We pray to goddess Lakshmi, the giver of wealth. The incarnation we now need is a Durga unshackling the Indian economy and cutting through the ugly morass it has slumped into. We need a democratically verifiable mechanism that will begin the destruction of corruption and unleash the potential of my country’s young and talented.
We also need to know how the government plans to get out of the way so wealth can be generated and jobs can be created in an honest, organised and predictable manner. Pet peeve – a gainfully employed people is a peaceful people – so tell us now how the over one million jobs per month will be created, where and by whom? The last budget foxed everyone – the more one looked, the more there was nothing to find.
India wants neither a dream budget nor a scream budget, but a real budget. Hope there has been a real attempt to listen to business and other leaders with new ideas new ways of doing work. For if you go to the same people, you will get the same results also called vested interests. If we continue to tax the same people (mostly honest taxpayers – a mere three per cent of the population) we will not become a $5 trillion economy anytime soon. Large infrastructure projects need long-term investments that must be allowed to work without hindrance and political interference. For this to happen our politicians must understand risk that business people take. Unfortunately, the only risk our leaders see is the on to their chairs. The system cannot continue to run people to the ground making them feel like criminals if they want to set up a company in India, invest in our mega projects and expect returns. Even the Indian business community is worried.
How long till India’s famous democratic dividend begins to get its place in the sun without being “sold” abroad as a potential market or an investment destination? Semantic jugglery will not come to the government’s aid this time around. Nor will blaming external factors, oil prices and related swings. Someone has to stand up and take responsibility for the difficult situation we are in and lead with straights arguments. Don’t set goals that will be unattainable. Get real, for your own sake and don’t let the country’s future down.