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February 28, 2001                                       Feedback  

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Nothing extreme in the Budget: FM's wife

Priya Ganapati meets Nilima Sinha to find out how the finance minister's wife copes with the post-Budget blues.

It is extremely quiet in the bungalow on 6, Kushak Marg, New Delhi. There are no visitors and a lone secretary sits in the office adjoining the private home of Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha.

Neatly dressed in a cream and red silk saree, Nilima Sinha is extremely gracious when I drop in uninvited on Wednesday evening for a quick chat.

The finance minister's wife only protests when she is asked to react to the Budget as an average Indian householder.

"I don't consider myself to be the representative of an average Indian family. There are just two of us living here in this house. All my children are abroad. I can only react to it from the feedback that I have got and as a person concerned with what happens around me," she says.

So, what is her reaction to the Budget?

"I think it is a balanced Budget. There is nothing extreme in it. There was a feeling built up that it would be a harsh Budget. But the Budget is soft with a lot of things that economists had been expecting. And despite that he hasn't been too harsh on the ordinary people. There is nothing to substantiate the fear that people had before the Budget that the reforms would hit the poor. He has built in a lot of safety nets into the Budget," she explains.

Managing the Sinha household is an easy task for her. But she is not too happy with her husband's work schedule. Like most wives she complains that he works too hard and too late.

"He is always very busy. He is very particular that the day's work be finished and all the files on his table be cleared before he can come home that day. His day ends very late. Mostly he comes home at 11 pm but this sometimes extends till 2 am," she says.

So, what was the last week like in the Sinha home?

"Before the Budget it became very difficult. He didn't come home for lunch at all and he certainly couldn't come home early," she says sadly.

On Tuesday though it was different. The finance minister was home early after a tough day. "He went to bed early. He said he wanted to be fresh before the Budget today," she reveals.

While Yashwant Sinha left early on Wednesday morning to meet the President and then attend a short Cabinet meeting before the Budget presentation, Nilima Sinha travelled alone to Parliament to listen to his speech

She has heard all the four speeches her husband has delivered as the nation's guardian of the exchequer.

This year industry reacted extremely positively to the Budget. The average rating being handed out is an astonishing 8 out of 10.

"I am happy that the Budget has been applauded by industry. But because they are all saying it is very good, I am a little scared that the ordinary man will feel it is not good. I hope it is appreciated by them," she says.

So, does the finance minister ever ask her for advice?

"He doesn't ask me, but I keep telling him," she laughs.

"I think the government has done very well in terms of its target for fiscal deficit. They have managed to meet their target of fiscal deficit at 5.1 per cent for the last year. I am sure this year's target of 4.7 per cent of GDP will be met too."

She is not unduly worried about the high rate of inflation pegged at around 8 per cent. She confesses that there has not been much impact on her household. "I have not really felt the impact of inflation. The only thing that has made a difference is the hike in the price of gas. But then that happened last year and there has been no change this year."

Did she protest against the hike in the price of gas?

"Yes. I did protest. But then I also knew that LPG was highly subsidised so we have to tolerate it. But I protested," she says.

She reads every newspaper delievered to the Sinha home and briefs her husband every morning on what is being written about by the media. "He doesn't get time to read the papers. So I read and tell him what is there in it and if there are any comments I think he should know about," she says.

Has she ever managed to get a peek at the Budget, we ask.

"No. Never. I don't get to see any part of it before it is laid down in Parliament," she says.

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