Budget speeches are notoriously boring but never short. No wonder many parliamentarians, who never fail to give laughter breaks to fellow members of the House, often doze off during the speech. Since the start of 21st century in India until 2014, there was not a single Budget speech that deviated, even for a fraction of time, from the seriousness attached to what is now India’s annual economic ritual. On three occasions in all these years, then Finance Minister P Chidambaram quoted his “muse” Saint Tiruvalluvar for “guidance and reassurance” while presenting the Union Budget. Here are the three quotes:
1. Budget 2008-09: “Kodai Ali Sengol Kudi Ombal Nangum Udaiyanam Vendharkku Oli” (Generous grants, compassion, righteous rule and succour to the downtrodden. Are the hallmarks of good governance.)
2. Budget 2005-06: “Pini Inmai Selvam Vilaivu Inbam Emam, Ani Enba Nattirkku Iv Iyndhu”. (Health, wealth, produce, the happiness that is the result, and security. These five, the learned say, are the ornaments of a polity)
3. Budget 2004-05: “Aran Izhukkathu Allavai Neeki Maran Izhukka, Maanam Udayathu Arasu” (They are good rulers who observe ethics, commit no crime and walk the path of honour and courage).
While Saint Tiruvalluvar’s words depicted centuries of India’s accumulated wisdom, the Budget speeches remained prolonged monologues. Former finance ministers like Pranab Mukherjee of the Congress and Jaswant Singh of BJP never said anything extra, apart from the hardcore Budget text.
Come 2015, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley brought in a fresh change in Budget presentation. In a first, he took to sarcasm-ridden poetry to explain his government’s position and will to fight for the people. “Kuch to phool khilaye humne, aur kuch phool khilane hai; Mushkil yeh hai bag me ab tak, kaante kai purane hai,” (We have grown some flowers, a lot of them need to grown even now; but the difficulty is that there are a lot of thorns in the garden). The couplet was seen as Jaitley’s dig at Opposition parties including the Congress.
While presenting the 2016-17 Budget, Jaitley took forward his poetic injunction in the Budget presentation with a four-line verse.
“Kashti Chalane Walon ne jab haar ke di patwaar hamein
Leher–lehar toofan mile aur mauj–mauj manjhdar hamein
Phir bhi dikhaya hai hamne aur phir ye dikha denge sabko
In Haalaat me aata hai, dariya karna paar hamein.”
(When the boatman gave us the oar after getting defeated, we met the storm at every wave and midstream, yet we have shown and will show it to all again, we know how to cross the sea even in these circumstances).
Presenting the Budget this year in the wake of demonetisation decision, Jaitley may need to say these words again. Or, we hope finds something new.