BY ANINDYA BANERJEE
New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) It was unusual as the Niti Ayog meeting on Thursday with economists on the state of the economy went ahead without Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, leaving Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take charge of the pre-budget brainstorming. The Finance Minister, instead, was busy in a three hour marathon meeting at BJP headquarters, listening to the party’s wishlist.
The meeting at 6A Deendayal Upadhyay Marg, the party headquarters, started at 10.30 a.m. and lasted till about 1.30 p.m. Sitharaman listened to what the BJP expects in terms of policy changes which can make its life easy when they hit the ground to campaign. A senior BJP leader cautioned against calling it a “demand” but “policy fine-tuning”.
What happened behind the closed doors?
Thursday’s meeting of Sitharaman was divided into four segments: meeting with key post holders, heads of different cells of BJP, the media department and finally, intellectuals. The meeting was attended by senior leadership like BJP’s Working President J.P. Nadda, General Secretary, Organisation, B.L. Santosh, General Secretaries Bhupendra Yadav, and Arun Singh among others.
In the meeting with different cell heads, they elaborated what they are looking forward to in the budget 2020. For instance, the SC/ST Cell demanded certain ‘special concessions’ for the Scheduled Caste and Tribe community that may give the BJP an edge while battling parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party or outfits like Bheem Army.
However, in the interaction with the media cell, it was less about taking inputs than informing the army of BJP spokespersons on what to market and how on national television. For instance, a media cell member, who attended the closed door interaction with the Minister told IANS: “She cited the coal auction system as something that has brought transparency and going to generate employment.” It was a suggestion to stress this point vigorously in TV debates, making a case for the Modi government.
Industry expresses concern through BJP:
For the first time the party has been holding background talks with industry experts and representatives to understand what they need to activate growth. Seven such meetings are already over. Party spokesperson on economic affairs, Gopal Krishna Agarwal, who has been at the thick of such meetings, told IANS that the outcome of the last seven meetings were conveyed “one by one” which, Agarwal claims, the FM listened “patiently and kept noting”.
Four such background meets with industry representatives are yet to take place. Once they are over, another meeting with Sitharaman will be arranged where their basics will be communicated to her. According to Agarwal, 200 individuals are either been asked or in process of being asked for their opinions and requirements for respective industrial sectors during the 11 meetings.
“Gaon, gareeb, Kisan” budget
General Secretary Arun Singh, who attended the meeting told media that it will be a “gaon, gareeb, Kisan” (village, poor, farmer) driven budget. Though he refused to elaborate further, the sense is there is expected to be goodies for the agriculture sector and some relief for farmers, making it look appealing to them.
While, economists that IANS spoke to suggested the government may not go for a big farmer loan write offs, given the fiscal deficit it is facing, it may introduce farmer subsidy for owning certain equipments or obtaining certain facilities. While it may boost rural growth, it also makes political sense for the ruling party.
However, all these behind the doors preparation by the BJP was overshadowed by the Finance Minister’s absence from the crucial two-hour long Niti Aayog meeting on Thursday with over 30 industry experts and economists to review and take their views on steps to revive the Indian economy on growth and employment. Home Minister Amit Shah, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari were present at the event too.
(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)