Congress hails budget; Left, opposition term it populist


New Delhi : As Congress leaders brought truckloads of farmers to party president Sonia Gandhi’s home Friday to thank her for the loan waiver in this year’s budget, politicians reacted along predictable lines – the Congress and coalition partners hailed it, while its Left allies and the opposition termed it populist and election-oriented.

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The ruling Congress and other constituents of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government were all praise for the budget and some even hailed it as “one of the best budgets in independent India”.

Sonia Gandhi told the farmers gathered outside her house: “Today is a very happy occasion. The waiver of loans on farmers by the UPA government is a revolutionary step. I congratulate the UPA government and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram for it.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed the budget as pro-agriculture and pro-investment, saying the measures announced would address the problems of the critical farm sector and would lead to overall development of the economy.

“There are good prospects for PSUs… markets are thirsty for good chips,” he said on the initiative to list more public sector companies through part divestment to unleash their potential.

The agricultural loan waiver was a “very unorthodox response” to raise the depressed “animal spirits” of the farmers, the “biggest businessmen” of the country, the prime minister said. “Considering the amount of depression that prevails in the agriculture sector, this is the response mechanism that is fully justified.”

However, the Left parties did not appear particularly pleased.

“Chidambaram, with his exuberance, has announced everything but missed one thing – the date of the elections. He said nothing about inflation, the public distribution system (PDS), unorganised labour and unemployment,” Gurudas Dasgupta of the Communist Party of India (CPI) said.

“There was no additional tax on the corporate sector. This budget will bring no equality but will broaden the gap between the rich and the poor. The loan waiver schemes for farmers are just a one-time solution as the finance minister has not reduced the interest rate,” he added.

“We welcome the move to waive off the farmers’ loans. But it is applicable to only those who have taken money from the nationalized and scheduled banks, who comprise just one third of the farmers in distress,” said Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury.

“Two-thirds of the farmers have borrowed money from private money lenders. The bulk of suicides are taking place among them,” Yechury told reporters in the parliament complex.

The CPI-M politburo member also pointed out that the money for loan waiver has not been allocated in the budget. “The finance minister may be planning to issue bonds in favour of the banks to meet this. If this is how he wanted it, he should not have waited for the budget to do this.”

Other criticisms by the communists were that the budget did not address the issue of inflation and strengthen the public distribution system.

As for the opposition, the wind was taken out of its sails by the farm loan waiver.

“What they have done for farmers in this budget, they could have done it four years back. It is very late and if they had done it a little earlier a lot of farmers’ lives could have been saved. It is a populist gimmick for an early election,” said V.K. Malhotra, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) deputy leader in the Lok Sabha.

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani alleged the budget had “minority overtones”.

CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury reacted saying, “only Advani can recognize such things”.

Calling it an “election budget”, former power minister and Shiv Sena MP Suresh Prabhu said: “This is a giveaway budget, in so far as it is giving a lot with no visible returns for the government. Whatever outlays they have announced and the targets the finance minister has set in the budget, I hope they manage to achieve.”

Tathagat Satpathy, an MP of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) that is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), said: “This is a totally elitist budget. They have given duty exemptions to anti-AIDS drugs whereas many more people in rural areas are suffering from malaria and other diseases.”

Mohan Singh of the Samajwadi Party said: “Relief to farmers now is not going to save them. According to the Vaidyanathan Committee report, 12 crore (120 million) farmers are suffering and the government relief is for only four crore (40 million) farmers.

“The government’s intention is to present a populist budget in view of the elections. Otherwise, a person like Chidambaram would not have given so much to the farmers.”