BY ANINDYA BANERJEE
New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) Seventy two hours from now, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be presenting the Union Budget, 2020 amid diving GDP projections, the country losing its coveted title of the world’s fastest growing economy to China, and a worrying fiscal deficit expected to surpass projected 3.3 per cent.
Even as all eyes will on the Budget, there is a “fantastic four”, as they are often referred to within the BJP, who have, for months, been giving critical feedback to the Finance Minister on what the budget should be and specifically, which sectors deserve more allocations. From suggestions like which subsidies should be given or withdrawing, they have been instrumental in shaping the Budget quite as much as the bureaucrats at North Block.
IANS profiles these behind the scene faces who have worked very closely with Sitharaman for the last few months.
1. Gopal Krishna Agarwal:
This BJP spokesperson has been steering the formerly non-existent economic wing of the BJP. A Director of the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA) and a former director of the Bank of Baroda, Agarwal has been the nucleus of budgetary preparation for Sitharaman this year. He worked as an interface between the industry and the Finance Minister this year.
For the first time, the party held background talks with industry experts and representatives to understand what they need to activate growth. There were a total of 11 such meetings. Agarwal, who has been in the thick of such meetings, told IANS that the outcomes of these meetings are conveyed “one by one” which, Agarwal claims, the FM listened to “patiently and kept noting”, all these while. According to him, 200 individuals from different sectors took part in this year’s meeting.
The importance the FM attaches to the ‘fantastic four’ can be sensed from the fact that she chose to get into a huddle at the BJP headquarters on January 10, even as a crucial two-hour-long Niti Aayog meeting with over 30 industry experts and economists went ahead without her.
2. Dr. Syed Zafar Islam:
Another BJP spokesperson, he is a former Managing Director, Deutsche Bank who is tasked by the BJP leadership to give his continuous inputs to the budget that are eventually presented to Sitharaman. A former investment banker, he is currently a Director of the national carrier Air India. So how does it work? “There is no structured mechanism,” replies Islam, before adding the “senior leadership” asked him to share his “vision for the budget” within the party.
On being asked to elaborate what his suggestions were, Islam was candid. “We have very limited room to manoeuvre, given the committed expenditure in India. But whatever resources are left in the budget that can be spent somewhere, the idea is to use it equally for the rural sector, poor and the middle class.”
So has he suggested incentives for the corporate sector or more subsidy for the poor? Islam would not answer but did tell IANS that “I hope this budget will see more spending on the rural sector”. This reconfirms an earlier IANS report that suggested the BJP demanded a ‘gaon, gareeb, kisan’ (village, poor, farmer) focus budget from Sitharaman.
3. Narendra Taneja:
Taneja is not just a BJP spokesperson but trusted voice in the energy sector. He is the Head of the BRICS Business Council and the President of World Energy Policy Summit. That is why the BJP used his expertise this year in the run-up to the Budget.
What has been his suggestion to the Minister Nirmala? Speaking to IANS, Taneja confessed: “I said the government needs to spend more. That is to say broadly. But on specifics, the rural economy needs more attention that urban economy. The demand is lacking. Recreating rural demand is the key.”
On the modus operandi, Taneja said that there were a series of meetings within the BJP with his colleagues comprising the ‘fantastic four’ and specific suggestions are handed over to the Finance Minister. Among them are water conservation projects within villages, and rural infrastructure projects. “Idea is to create jobs, give money in the hands of villagers and arrest migration from villages,” he reasoned.
4. Amit Malviya:
While most know him as the national social media head of the BJP, Malviya has spent a considerable amount of his professional life in the banking sector. That is the reason he has been a part of this pre-budget exercise that went for months.
Malviya says that the macro indicators are good for India. However, some specific suggestions went to Sitharaman. Sources say a substitution for import of major items was an idea that was floated.
“India imports so much of electrical goods. We also import buttons that we wear on our shirts. Manufacturing them in India will not only add value to tech ‘Make in India’ programme but also boost domestic business,” he said.
A BJP source, meanwhile, says that Malviya requested the FM to instill confidence in the banking sector. Elaborating on the suggestion, the source added: “Right now, many banks fear lending money. They fear being subject to probes later on. But bringing a transparent system where the bank can lend freely will bring liquidity in the market.”
Whether Sitharaman can bring smile on your faces with tax cuts or frown with additional taxes is a matter only she is privy to. But come February 1, when the Finance Minister will present her second budget, these four BJP faces and their brainstorming is likely to be reflected in the provisions one way or the other.