M A I N   N E W S

A risk-free Budget to ensure UPA govt survival
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, March 16
At a time when the UPA government is under constant threat from its assertive allies, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee chose to tread a cautious path today with the presentation of a risk-free Budget to ensure that the survival of the ruling combine is not endangered.

Pranab kept up his reputation as the government’s ace trouble-shooter as he skirted contentious issues, avoided any big ticket reforms and generally kept away from announcing any tough measures.

And if the first reaction from the UPA partners is any indication, the Congress’ ace trouble-shooter appears to have succeeded in his mission. The UPA’s largest constituent, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC), which is constantly on the warpath, came out with a weak and subdued response. “Tolerable,” TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien tweeted soon after Pranab finished reading his Budget Speech.

Speaking in the same vein, TMC leader Sudeep Bandhopadhyay maintained his party is not in a mood to confront, while his party colleague Sultan Ahmed remarked the Budget gives “na khushi, na gam”, clearly indicating that they were hard put to find any major flaw in the Budget.

This is a departure from the TMC’s angry reaction to the fare hike proposed in the Rail Budget two days ago, which was, ironically, presented by his party colleague Dinesh Trivedi. While demanding an immediate rollback, TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that same night asking him to drop Trivedi as Rail Minister and replace him with Mukul Roy.

The DMK, UPA’s second largest ally, was quite generous in its comments. “On the whole, it is a growth-oriented Budget,” remarked DMK leader T Siva, adding that the steps initiated today will help India withstand the impact of a global economic crisis.

Having been at the receiving end of their allies’ ire, the Congress camp was predictably relieved with their reactions to the Budget.

A relaxed Congress president Sonia Gandhi remarked candidly, “Under the present circumstances, it is a very good Budget.”

Congress media department chief Janardan Dwivedi described it as a balanced Budget, while Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni pointed out that there was nothing in the Budget to needle anybody.

The Congress was particularly happy that Pranab had been alive to the sensitivities of the “aam admi”, which was evident from the focus on food security and larger allocations for agriculture and social sectors.

The boost provided to manufacturing and infrastructure sectors also came in for appreciation in the hope that it will generate jobs and push growth.

The Opposition, however, had reasons to be unhappy with the Budget for reasons other than economic. In the absence on any discordant voices emanating from the UPA, it has been deprived of exploiting the differences within the ruling coalition. “It is certainly bad news for the BJP and the Samajwadi Party,” said TMC’s O’Brien.





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