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Interim Budget: Ahead of LS polls, the NDA govt sticks to ‘social justice’ theme

Interim Budget: Ahead of LS polls, the NDA govt sticks to ‘social justice’ theme

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Virendra Pandit

 

New Delhi: As India gears up for the ensuing Lok Sabha elections in April-May, the Interim Budget 2024 has stuck to the ruling NDA’s theme of ‘social justice’ and gives a counter-secularism pitch to the economic document that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled in the Lower House of Parliament on Thursday.

In her hour-long speech, she called for the welfare of the poor, women, youth, and farmers—the “four biggest castes” Prime Minister Narendra Modi identified recently—as the NDA government’s “highest priority” cutting across strata and geographies.

Being an Interim Budget—the full General Budget is likely to be tabled in Parliament after the elections, probably in July 2024—the government stayed away from populist announcements, and aligned with what are set to be the themes of PM Modi’s campaign as he seeks re-election for a third time in a few months from now.

The document, seeking a vote-on-account, included a focus on social justice with a clear emphasis on the four “ biggest castes.” As Sitharaman said, “The country progresses when they progress. All four require and receive government support in their quest to better their lives. Their empowerment and well-being will drive the country forward.”

She also countered indirectly the criticism of majoritarianism leveled against the BJP, asserting that the Modi government’s measures are “secularism in action”.

Linking it with the government’s “fight” against corruption, when several Opposition leaders are currently facing investigation, the Finance Minister said: “Previously, social justice was mostly a political slogan. For our government, social justice is an effective and necessary governance model. The saturation approach of covering all eligible people is the true and comprehensive achievement of social justice. This is secularism in action, reduces corruption and prevents nepotism.”

“There is transparency and an assurance that benefits are delivered to all eligible people, that resources are distributed fairly. All, regardless of their social standing, get access to opportunities. We are addressing systemic inequalities that have plagued our society. We focus on outcomes and not on outlays, so that socio-economic transformation is achieved.”

Sitharaman also proposed setting up “a high-powered committee for extensive consideration of the challenges arising from fast population growth and demographic changes. The committee will be mandated to make recommendations for addressing these challenges comprehensively in relation to the goal of Viksit Bharat,” she said.

This is in line with the ruling BJP’s ideology. At his annual Vijayadashami speech in October, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had flagged the need for “a comprehensive population control policy” that would apply to all “equally”, and said it was in the national interest to keep an eye on “population imbalance.”

In his Independence Day address in 2019, PM Modi also referred to the “population explosion”, calling it a challenge and urging the Centre and states to devise schemes to tackle it.

Applauding the Modi government’s “humane and inclusive” approach, Sitharaman called it “a marked and deliberate departure from the earlier approach”.

“Every challenge of the pre-2014 era was overcome through our economic management and our governance. These have placed the country on a resolute path of sustained high growth. This has been possible through our right policies, true intentions, and appropriate decisions.”

Expressing the hope that the BJP-led government “will be blessed again by the people with a resounding mandate”, due to its “stupendous” work, she said that in the full budget in July, “our government will present a detailed road map for our pursuit of Viksit Bharat”.

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