This Moneycontrol Insight18 podcast details the Budget-making process.
(Note: This podcast was first published in January 2018 and has been repurposed for Moneycontrol listeners.)
It stands to reason that the making of a magnum opus such as the Union Budget is a long drawn one. Rome wasn’t built in a day; Lagaan wasn’t made in a day. Don’t we all know that the Making of Lagaan is in itself a feature-film length documentary? The budget is also essentially the making of Lagaan – it is all about taxes, isn’t it!
It takes a village to raise a child, said Hillary Clinton in her book. What does it take to raise the Union Budget? Seemingly a ballet company and a juggling act. It juggles political pressures, the economy’s priorities, and the needs and wants of the most important component of the budget – the people of the Republic.
ACT ONE: A Circular is sent
Act One begins as early as August. A circular is sent to the various ministries and departments. Think of it as a large joint family, and the matriarch, the finance minister, sending the grocery book to the rest of the family. Pintu wants almonds because he thinks they will make smarter and Bunty wants whey protein because he thinks it will make him hotter. Different priorities; different needs. Different ministries; different requirements of cash. These ministries and departments fill the circular with details of the funds they need and the circular returns to the mother, Mr Arun Jaitley. That ends Act One.
ACT TWO: Consultations are made
Consultations. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones or any show with palace intrigue and courtier dealings, then you get a sense of Act Two of the making of the budget. Ministry officials meet industrialists, farmers, labour unions, and other groups that have a contribution to make to the drafting of the document, the details of which affect all walks of society. The finance minister then chairs final meetings with stakeholders.
If we want parallels from history or entertainment, or historical entertainment, think Lord Varys or Oliver Cromwell. And you start getting an idea of who the main players of Act Two are. But, it’s not just the protagonist of the show Mr Jaitley, it’s all the officials in the ministry and the powers that be in the country. In my wild imagination, Act Two involves dark rooms with mahogany furniture covered in smoke. But it probably is more like the conference room you and I know and involves the Excel Sheets you and I loathe. A lot of Excel sheets.
ACT THREE: The Quarantine
The details of this act could put any political thriller to shame. This is the act of the Quarantine. You may have encountered the term Quarantine only in relation to diseases like bird flu or swine flu, but here we are, enforcing quarantine in the Union Budget.
Officials, stenographers, technicians – anyone who may have access to the details of the document are quarantined at North Block’s basement. They are cut off from the outside world for seven whole days. It’s a sort of Bigg Boss situation. And funnily enough, these officials will have to wait seven whole days to find out what happened on the actual Bigg Boss. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Snapchat. All I imagine now are horrified faces of twenty-somethings. The intrigue gets even more intriguing. Intelligence Bureau officials monitor movements and phone calls of these members. A phone jammer is installed to block calls and prevent leakages.
The background music for Act Three is an almost Hans Zimmer score. It’s tense, it’s hectic, and you are cut off from the world.
THE FINAL ACT: PRINTING OF THE SPEECHThe Finance Minister’s Speech – it doesn’t quite have the ring of The King’s Speech, does it? Nevertheless, this speech, the climactic act of the Making of the Budget is among the most closely guarded documents in Indian politics. It is a culmination of the months of work by hundreds of people. The printing of the speech starts at midnight, two days before the Budget. It’s printed in the basement of North Block on Raisina Hill. The same North Block where so many officials were quarantined for seven days. The background score to this final act? A lot of sighs of relief and hopefully some champagne bottles being popped. There was blood, there was sweat, there were tears. There will hopefully be some champagne. Not just for the people behind the Making of the Budget, but also to all us, the common men and women, the payer of the Lagaan.