CENTRAL BUDGET: POPULISM IN FORM AND CORPORATIZATION IN CONTENT

14 March 2018
IN VIEW of the forthcoming state assembly elections and the general election due in 2019, the Modi government’s 2018 budget has taken on a cautious populist mask even while carrying forward its pro-corporate agenda intact. All the various extra-budgetary measures such as granting of 100 FDI in retail, real estate and a whole set of “ease of doing” initiatives already taken at the behest of foreign-corporate capital on the eve of the budget coupled with the promulgation of GST firmly under corporate control that has pulled almost 65 percent of the country’s tax regime out of the parliamentary budgeting process have this time yielded much flexibility to the government for resorting to a “populist” budget.

Various announcements such as increase in agricultural credit, increase in the target of providing free LPG connections to poor households, more toilets, minimum support price for crops, etc. are intended to cool down the fury of peasants and toiling masses that are rising up in large numbers all over the country. But all these are mere extensions of those unfulfilled promises announced in previous budgets and no budgetary outlay has been set for them. For instance, take the case of the so called “largest health care and social security system” worth Rs. 1.38 lakh crore announced in the budget. No allocation of funds has been earmarked for this, as it is just going to be an emulation of the American model “insurance raj” in the health care system and the funds set apart will be channeled in to the coffers of corporate insurance companies and with a view to achieve this even the state-owned insurance companies- National Insurance, United India Insurance and Oriental Insurance are going to merged before being privatized.

In addition to the privatization of Air India, the national air carrier already announced, the 2018-19 disinvestment is targeted at Rs. 80000 crores. 24 strategic and core PSUs are listed for this biggest-ever sell-out. And public sector banks which are in crisis on account of the continuous repudiation of corporate loans, are going to have budgetary a recap to lend additional Rs. 5 lakh crores, a further appeasement to corporate firms. The defense allocation this time is the biggest-ever—Rs. 3.05 lakh crore, an increase of 11.03 percent compared to the 7 percent hike made in the previous budget. And corporate income tax reduction of 25 percent announced in last year’s budget has been further extended to all those, whose annual income is up to Rs. 250 crores.

Even while keeping a populist gesture, the budget has nothing to deal with the rising prices of essential items including food. Even as petroleum taxes alone are yielding around Rs. 5 lakh crores to the coffers of the government, there is no mention on reducing the excise duty on petrol and diesel for reducing their market prices. Similarly, the budget is completely silent on the ever-mounting unemployment problem. Though Modi had announced the creation of two lakh crore jobs every year when he ascended the throne, nothing has been done to this day and there is no mention in the budget on this question. There are no initiatives for removing inequality, and those programs announced for marginalized sections are not at all backed by adequate budgetary allocation. All the schemes announced in education and other service sectors are intended for corporatization of them through backdoor.

It is an election-eve budget to hoodwink the people and at the same time subtly serving corporate interests.

We appeal to the workers, peasants and all toiling people to grasp the true essence of the measures announced in the budget and rise up in struggles for a basic alteration of the neoliberal policies and for replacing the same with a people- oriented development program. 
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