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February 28, 2001                                       Feedback  

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When critics sang paeans for Sinha

Y Siva Sankar in New Delhi

Yahswant Sinha, Union Finance Minister When Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha retires for the (hectic) day tonight, he will sleep well. Not because months of hard work and sleepless nights have finally paid off and the Budget presentation went off smootly.

Sinha will sleep well not because Indian industry has pulled out all stops in its praise for his budget which, it said, is rooted in reality and forward-looking; he will sleep well not because the stock-market flashed a thumbs-up and the Sensex erupted with joy, up 177 points to 4247.

Sinha will sleep well, perhaps with a smile on his lips, because in a matter of hours, Budget 2001-02 has transformed the staunchest critics of the Indian government’s economic policy into unalloyed supporters. witnessed, with considerable amusement, the swiftness and grace with which Bajaj Auto chairman and swadeshi soldier Rahul Bajaj performed a critic’s somersault.

An hour before Sinha began his speech, Bajaj spoke to, and tried hard to conceal his concerns -- and disappointment over the government’s dithering on second generation of big-ticket reforms due to political compulsions. “Whatever Sinha does, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said airily, as if he had a hunch that Budget 2001 would be dismal.

Hours later, after Sinha finished his speech, Bajaj was euphoric, overcome with emotion at Sinha’s “outstanding, refreshing Budget”. He was on the dais, sharing his impressions and fielding questions from mediapersons at the CII headquarters in New Delhi. Suddenly he spotted Finance Secretary Ajit Kumar walking into the premises for a live television programme.

Without much ado and without wasting a moment, Bajaj screamed: “There goes the Finance Secretary. He deserves full marks. Ajit, great job. Well done.” An embarrassed Kumar just waved his hand, without as much as turning back, and walked away, and disappeared into the building.

Bajaj was embarrassed too. For a different reason. Remember, he had said: “Whatever Sinha does, it doesn’t matter to me”? However, Sinha’s Budget 2001 put the basic customs duty on imports of used vehicles, including two-wheelers, at 105 per cent, with peak duty at 180 per cent. Indian auto industry -- and Bajaj Auto -- could not have asked for more, perhaps, in terms of protection from foreign competition.

If Bajaj symbolised Indian industry’s comprehensive endorsement of Sinha’s proposals, former finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram’s ungrudging appreciation of Budget 2001 signified the Opposition’s new-found resolve to give the devil its due, even if it is on the other side of the political fence.

When met him at his residence, Chidambaram said, without batting an eyelid, that Sinha has done a good job, though the question whether he could have done better might crop up sooner or later.

“It’s a good Budget. The government is back on the path to economic reforms,” he said.

He had unreserved praised for the proposal to grant greater autonomy to public sector banks. “The decision to scrap the Banking Services Recruitment Board reflects what seems the government’s sincerity in this context.”

He also expressed satisfaction at the fiscal deficit figure of 5.1 per cent of GDP and the targeted 4.7 per cent for 2001-02. “I personally feel this year’s figure may be slightly higher. But the numbers, no doubt, are looking good. It remains to be seen whether mere good fiscal deficit numbers would indeed mean a really good budget.”

The Budget 2001-2002 Special

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