At a meeting of the Union council of ministers held last Sunday, on the eve of the Budget, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged his ministerial colleagues to improve their communication with the people, especially the middle class on programmes by his government that directly or indirectly benefit them. It was the biggest hint of what was to come in the Budget presented on Wednesday, with major changes in personal income tax slabs, doubling of rebate, and bringing down of the effective highest rate of tax from over 42% to 39%.
Neo middle class as core constituency
The Budget, the last full one before the General Elections of 2024, therefore shows that the core constituency of the BJP, the middle class, especially the neo middle class, has been addressed, after years of pro-poor policies and programmes as the BJP sought to improve its political footprint.
If the last few budgets were about programmes such as the Ujjwala Yojana of free gas connections, or Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (farmers income support programme), this time the highlight was the middle class from whom the party was facing a blowback of being taken for granted.
The exemption from income tax to those with income under ₹7 lakh per annum (up from ₹5 lakh per annum) and the changes in the tax slabs under the new income tax regime is good news for those categories.
The relief in the BJP all set to face nine Assembly polls this year and the General Elections in the next was palpable, to the point where BJP MP Vinod Sonkar urged Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to repeat the announcements of the exemptions. “Madam, once more,” he said from the back benches, Ms Sitharaman cracked a smile, but did not oblige.
This is not to say that some of the other, effective popular programmes were neglected. The Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana of housing for the poor received a 66% hike in outlay of ₹79,000 crore. It was repeatedly seen in many surveys by the BJP and other political parties that the scheme remains a very popular one among the poor as it provides the only fixed asset for them -- a dwelling place.
Women as a stable constituency
Women have been considered an emerging and loyal constituency for Mr. Modi and the BJP with the former often attributing several electoral victories to the support of women voters.
Ms Sitharaman, keeping that in mind, announced the ‘Mahila Samman Saving Certificate’ for women. “One-time new small saving under ‘Mahila Samman Saving Patra’. The deposit facility for the women and girls will be for a period of two years, with rate of interest 7.5%,” she said.
Assembly polls also get a nod
State elections also came in for a nod, with a ₹5,300 crore outlay in the Budget for the Upper Bhadra Irrigation Project, which is meant to benefit the drought-prone areas of Central Karnataka.
The Upper Bhadra project is meant to provide micro-irrigation to the drought-prone districts of Chitradurga, Tumkaru and Davangere by providing water from the Bhadra River in the poll-bound State’s Chikkamagaluru area. An outlay of ₹15,000 crore (over the next three years) has also been announced to provide saturation level basic facilities like water, sanitation, education, housing etc for the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) under a new PVTG mission. This is notable as states going to polls, like Meghalaya, Tripura, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh et al have significant tribal populations.
As the country gets set to face the next General Elections, protecting the core of the BJP’s support base is very evident in this year’s budget.