In developing countries like India, citizens expect the government to do almost everything for them. In the process, they end up handing over too much power and control to it. The government has a say in almost everything, from the daily lives of the poor by way of sops and handouts to the productivity of the rich by way of taxes and duties. Policies and procedures have become weapons instead of tools in the hands of the ruling regime and income tax is the sharpest sword in its armory. It is a way of keeping everybody in line, literally hanging the Damocles over their subjects’ head. No wonder the yearly dramatics of the budget is watched so carefully by citizens from all walks of life. It plays such a critical role in almost everyone’s life except the very poor who don’t and can’t care too much either way.
In most of the developed Western world, except for egregious items, the budget evaporates from public debate in no time. A family member pointed out that there needs to be some stability in policies and strategies – really, how can we have a gigantic short term budget every year? I think so too, at least not a budget that is presented for hours and hours on end every time! In a large and populous country like ours, how can things change so much in a year that it needs a totally new budget every year?! Most of the time, items from the last budget don’t even get started till the next one comes around!
Now, economists will have their field day in the sun on every media outlet. And of course, the opposition will say this budget is anti-poor and pro-rich and will drive inflation through the roof! The budget is the longest running historical drama playing in empty auditoriums, but the actors never tire of mouthing the same inane dialogues year after year! The roles may reverse, actors may change but the drama remains the same!
Personally, I think the budget is just a whip that the government cracks once a year to show all and sundry who is the boss! In other countries, the government is answerable, accountable and beholden to its citizens. In India, it seems to be the other way around – the citizens are beholden to the government for their existence, and one line item in a document running into thousands of pages can turn our lives topsy-turvy! And the way things are going, political parties may change, but the budget theatrics are never going to change, never ever.