I don't know about you, but I found the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's budget speech to be utterly -- yawn! -- boring. This is not surprising because the underlying budget, with a strong slant towards the status quo, doesn't have any large, overarching theme. So, you won't find radical announcements or major new initiatives in the speech. What you will find instead are the mind-numbing details such as which items are going to attract a custom duty of 7.65 percent, and which ones, at 7.56 percent. I am sure it is important for people working in those respective industries, but utterly useless in lightening up the speech.
Having said that, I have to admit that the speech had its moments. Not surprisingly, you find them mostly in the preamble, and in the conclusion.
Right at the beginning, Chidambaram starts by reminding the MPs:
Twenty months ago, when I presented the first Budget of the UPA Government, I asked Honourable Members – and the people of this country – to walk with us on the path of honour and courage. The final report card on the first year of the UPA Government is out, and there are reasons to celebrate.
Then, he gives us a bit of
Shakespeare Charles Dickens:
This year can be characterized as the best of times and the worst of times. Nature has not been kind to us. Natural calamities took a heavy toll on human lives besides causing extensive damage to crops, roads, houses, and the infrastructure. ... It was also the best of times. Government has been able to fulfil the first NCMP obligation of ensuring a high growth rate.
He even launches into an 'assault on poverty':
The assault on poverty and unemployment continues. I believe that growth is the best antidote to poverty. The GDP growth target for the Tenth Plan was set at 8 per cent. ... the Government is determined to take the country to that high growth path. Growth will be our mount; equity will be our companion; and social justice will be our destination.
He moves on to finish the preamble with yet another rhetorical reference to something that his party used with tremendous impact:
As the year draws to a close, I look back with satisfaction that the promises we made to the common citizen – the aam admi – have been substantially redeemed.
Saint Thiruvalluvar, the ancient Tamil poet whom Chidambaram has quoted in every budget speech, makes an appearance in this speech too, but with a difference. He has been taken off from his usual special position at the end of the speech; he appears somewhere in the middle, when Chidambaram introduces a program to help the farming community. The Thiruvalluvar quote chosen for this speech -- "The world is his who does his job with compassion" -- is about as colourless as the speech itself.
Who, then, gets the honour of rounding out the speech? Henry David Thoreau and Swami Vivekananda!
Henry David Thoreau:
The young people of India are building castles, it may appear that those castles are in the air, but as Henry David Thoreau said: "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." It is our duty to put the foundations on which the young can build their castles.
And, finally, Swami Vivekananda:
Over a hundred years ago, a restless young man in his quest for the core of all spirituality admonished his fellow men in the following words: "We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. The wind is blowing; those vessels whose sails are unfurled catch it, and go forward on their way, but those which have their sails furled do not catch the wind. Is that the fault of the wind?....... We make our own destiny." Those are the immortal words of Swami Vivekananda. Let us believe in our destiny, let us make our future.