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India’s Vote-Buying Budget

By tradition, India's pre-election budget is an “interim budget” – a modest rollover of expenditures to see the government through for a few months until a new government is elected and presents its own budget. Not this time.

NEW DELHI – One sign that an Indian general election is imminent, and that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is readying its campaign pitch, is the government’s final pre-election budget. By tradition, it is an “interim budget” – a modest rollover of expenditures to see the government through for a few months until a new government is elected and presents its own budget. But, in issuing its last budget at the beginning of February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government went much further than its predecessors, by including far-reaching proposals for tax concessions and giveaways.

The budget reveals three things. First, the BJP has not lost its talent for making promises it can’t possibly fulfil. Second, the government will attempt a last-minute appeal to every constituency it has failed to address in its five years in power. And, third, Modi’s team still does not grasp the most important challenge facing the country.

The most important of interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal’s announcements was a Basic Income Support scheme for farmers, predicted by pretty much every analyst. But it turned out to offer a grand total of 6,000 rupees (roughly $84) per year – just 500 rupees a month – to a segment of society whose members have been committing suicide in record numbers. Would a farmer in the throes of existential despair find relief in a 500-rupee note? Would salvation come to him in the form of 16.5 rupees ($.23) a day?

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