Anita Joshua

Opposition, Left blame Chidambaram for ignoring "aam aadmi"

  • Chidambaram's efforts at humour evoke lukewarm response
  • Sonia plays cheerleader

    NEW DELHI: It was a cakewalk for Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday as he presented the Union budget, compared to what his colleague Lalu Prasad had to deal with on Monday during the Railway budget presentation. However, while Mr. Prasad got bouquets for his balancing act outside the House, Mr. Chidambaram had brickbats awaiting him as members of Parliament from the Opposition and supporting Left parties blamed him for remaining infatuated with growth and ignoring the "aam aadmi."

    The murmur of protest which began towards the fag end of his speech turned into a chorus as he signed off his hour-and-40-minute speech. Though the Opposition stuck to its word and did not disrupt the proceedings, the absence of any clear proposal to check price rise drew its ire. And, the proverbial last straw on the camel's back was the proposal to cut duty on pet food by 10 per cent.

    "What has happened to the `aam aadmi'?" became the refrain.

    Then came his proposal to fully exempt from excise duty all kinds of food mixes including instant mixes again a fad with the urban upwardly mobile. Mr. Chidambaram's quip that he could no longer be accused of being partial to `idli' and `dosa mixes' cut no ice with the members.

    That Mr. Chidambaram's own party members did not share his optimism was evident from the start itself and the frontbenchers including United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi had to act as cheerleaders. His occasional efforts at humour evoked lukewarm response and not many of his own partymen faced with the anger of their constituents over spiralling prices appeared convinced by his account of the measures the Government had taken to maintain price stability and his promise of more interventions if the need arose.

    Evidently conscious of his pro-growth and "anti-poor" image, the Minister dwelt at length on agriculture a sector, which by his own admission, witnessed sharp ups and downs and had not grown in the Tenth Plan at the rate estimated. Labouring the point, he wrapped up his reference to agriculture, pointing out that he had "devoted at least 15 minutes or so to agriculture."

    Quotes Tiruvalluvar

    Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar, as always, had a presence in his speech; this time to drive home the fact that there was no dearth of schemes and funds, but sound delivery mechanisms are needed to give effect to his promises on agriculture. The only other quote he borrowed was from Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh as he wrapped up his speech, racing through the last bit as members began to get agitated.

    But, Prof. Yunus' comment that "faster growth is essential for faster reduction in poverty; there is no other trick to it" found few takers as the MPs knew that Mr. Chidambaram's growth-oriented budget and financial talk would be of poor consolation to the average Indian looking for relief from the high prices.

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