Arun Jaitley follows the Narendra Modi formula of appealing to the neo-middle class with measures that will expand and sustain it.
The success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s politics has been in appealing to the material aspirations of India’s emergent middle class, while maintaining the core ideology of the Sangh Parivar as a subtext. In the maiden Budget of his government, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley followed that formula.
He assured the middle class, particularly the new entrants into this section, that the government was sensitive to their concerns. By naming new schemes after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological forebears Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya and Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mr. Jaitley gave reassuring signals to the core Hindutva constituency too. Jayaprakash Narayan and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, freedom fighters often invoked by the Sangh Parivar to embarrass the Congress, also got special attention in Mr. Jaitley’s speech.
The Budget speech referred to the neo-middle class — a social constituency that Mr. Modi had declared in 2012 would be the focus of his politics — five times. Smart cities, promotion of affordable housing, healthcare benefits, tax relief, incentives on savings, there are several measures in the Budget that this class will find helpful. These measures will also expand the size of this constituency, which the BJP hopes will remain with it.
Urbanisation and connectivity are corollaries to the formation and sustenance of this class, and the Budget focusses on these. “There is an imminent need to further bridge the divide between digital haves and have-nots,” Mr. Jaitley said announcing a programme called Digital India to ensure broadband connectivity at the village level and improved access to services through IT-enabled platforms. Though similar schemes have been announced by the previous UPA government too, the BJP finds the political potential in it. The Budget speech also notes that a large section of this aspirational class is from the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Others Backward Classes, which bought into the BJP’s pitch in the Parliament elections, ignoring caste-based parties.
A special scheme for displaced Kashmiri Pandits and other schemes for Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern States also signal emphasis on the nationalist agenda for the government. Construction of a war memorial and a police memorial underscores this agenda.
Though the Budget speech did not commit much time to them, the schemes for minorities have been maintained, particularly post-matric scholarships that the Gujarat government had opposed in the Supreme Court. A new programme for the upgrade of skills and training in ancestral arts for the minorities has also been launched.