Despite the opposition, the Election Commission has allowed the Modi government to go ahead with the decision to announce the Union Budget 2017 ahead of the Assembly elections. The Assembly elections in five states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are scheduled to begin from February 4. The other three states going to polls are Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
The Opposition parties like Congress and Samajwadi Party had claimed presentation of Union Budget just a few days before the start of the election will give the BJP an undue advantage over other parties. The EC, however, allowed Union government to go ahead with the Budget with a rider that it would not announce any scheme specific to the states going to polls from February 4.
Considering the complexities of Indian electoral system, it is highly unlikely that the Budget announcement today will impact the course of Assembly elections. And there are at least 10 reasons for that:
1. Indian electorates are wise, even if some of them may be illiterates. People already know in advance — what to vote for and who should get their votes.
2. Parties like the BJP can make even bigger announcements in their manifesto than it can in the Union Budget. With his last few decisions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already shown he can walk the talk. In fact, the BJP has already done that in its election manifest0 for different states. This means his supporters, if any, would have already decided by now if they have to vote for the BJP or not.
3. On December 31, PM Modi had announced a number of new schemes for the common people. The Budget today will likely mention those schemes in detail. This means, people, ought to be influenced by the budget, have already been influenced.
4. The Opposition parties claim that PM Modi’s demonetisation decision has been a “mammoth” failure. Hence, they should be convinced by now that BJP’s “Lotus” can’t bloom in states. People vote according to their experience. Mere announcement of a big scheme in budget can’t convince voters to vote for a particular party.
5. Politicians have been campaigning in their respective constituencies for several months for now. At the local level, people vote for leaders in which they believe, not for some schemes that may or may reach them.
6. Union Budget is a national level exercise. If promises at national level could sway voters at local level, BJP’s “Shining India” campaign would have never let the saffron party lose to Congress in 2004 or to the JD(U)-RJD-Congress Grand Alliance in Bihar in 2015.
7. Some media surveys have shown that PM Modi’s appeal has increased in states after the demonetisation decision. This means, people may vote for BJP because of their belief in Modi, not because of the budget announcement.
8. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley cannot announce schemes affecting the poll-bound states, without facing the wrath of Election Commission.
9. Assembly elections are influenced by local factors more than any national wave. The rapid rise of a small party like AAP in Punjab be cited as an example in this regard. The party is rapidly filling the vacuum created by an anti-incumbency wave against SAD-BJP combine and a waning Congress party.
10. Lastly, if the “Lotus” has to bloom in the Assembly elections, it would bloom because of the mud already available in states’ politics. For the record, budget documents promise to cleanse such mud.