Not many would accuse economists of being entertaining but there is one annual economic exercise that grabs the collective attention of India and Indians like no other- the Annual Budget. Feverish pre-budget speculation spills over from the economic papers into the mainstream media. On the airwaves, unwary passers-by and otherwise silenced homemakers are forced into making economic pronouncements on their expectations from the nation’s budget. Post-budget evaluations present an existential paradox as the effort gets both lauded as path-breaking and derided as ill-considered. Why do the people care so much about a fundamentally mundane accounting exercise?
The government’s revenues come from a complex basket comprising multiple sources but what each citizen sees first hand is the taxes being drawn from their pockets. The very complexity of the basket makes virtually all the other sources invisible to them. Having contributed, what they think is the lion’s share, to the government’s coffers they believe they have the right to ask for an accounting. And perhaps more importantly, they feel entitled to benefit directly from their contribution. In a nutshell, the people may be seeing answers to two fundamental questions. What are you doing with “MY” money? And, what will “I” get out of it? It’s up to the government of the day to provide the answers.