At the beginning of the Budget session 2017 of the Parliament, President Pranab Mukherjee said in his address, “At the core of all my government’s policies is the welfare of the garib, dalit, pidit, shoshit, vanchit, kisan, shramik and yuva.” Is this an indicator that the PM Narendra Modi-led central government’s Union budget will be a populist one? During the speech, the President kept reiterating the relation between black money and how it affects the poor and similar themes. He also talked about ‘jana shakti’ and the struggle of the underprivileged. Additionally, with the assembly elections coming up in various states including the biggest one, it is highly unlikely that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will present an unpopular budget. But where is the Modi who was projected as ambitious when it came to employment generation, economy, and curbing of black money?
While the fiscal indicators have looked well enough, there is still a lack in various areas including education, health and employment. Additionally, the poorly executed demonetisation move did not get down well with a lot of citizens and left polarised opinions. The biggest indicator of a shift in ambitions is the fact that the change is visible in the narratives as, from Make in India and ease of doing business, it has now come down to farmers, senior citizens and pregnant women, which was evident in Modi’s year-end speech. Modi got voted to power because he used the rhetoric of empowerment, where people expected themselves to become more independent, without depending on subsidies and waivers.
PM Modi’s narrative of employment generation along with a strong stance against subsidies made him highly popular before and after the Lok Sabha elections, but now the expected populist scheme could turn the focus totally. Why does his government seem to forget the fact that it was his tough choices, irrespective of the implementations won him so many elections? The moot question now is, will futuristic dividends lose from populism? Will Modi be able to concentrate on growth infrastructure and not dole out new schemes and yet convince people to be patient? The only way for Modi to do it will be to keep up with the moral crusade against black money which got triggered with the demonetisation move, which also gave rise to the cashless economy narrative that in itself opens up a lot of opportunities to bring a revolution in banking.