The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Jaitley’s Budget is full of soaring rhetoric and invisible allocations

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: As you sow

One might be inclined to be charitable towards Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Even though this was to be the last full Budget for his government, an occasion when the purse strings are generally loosened with an eye on elections, Jaitley had to grapple with the task of building a Budget in the aftermath of demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax. Those two shocks have left the economy reeling, leaving the government with very little money to play with. That may not have been reflected in the Budget speech Jaitley delivered – it had plenty of characteristic bombast and rhetoric – but the Budget documents are clear about it: There isn’t much to spend.

That generosity to Jaitley however, disappears when you remember why India is in this place at all. The government has had a stable four years in power with the first Lok Sabha majority in three decades, low oil prices, benign global conditions, stable inflation and, in the last two years, plentiful monsoons. All other things being equal, that should have provided enough fuel for the economy to be accelerating, rather than sputtering back into shape. But right in the middle of this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to withdraw 86% of India’s currency and, a year later, delivered a hastily put together roll out of the Goods and Services Tax. The Budget calls these a “tailwind and a headwind”, but at the moment the economy seems to barely be treading water.

And so you have soaring rhetoric in the Budget speech that tends to disappear into the bushes of the actual documents. As the pieces below show, Jaitley may have devoted the bulk of his speech to the rural economy but almost nothing has actually changed in the outlays. Agriculture was supposed to be the focus, and new schemes were indeed announced, but there is little money on offer for them. The finance minister spoke of the world’s largest healthcare programme, being dubbed by some as Modicare, yet the budget documents showed that they were a repackaging of older schemes that have not achieved much. Outside of expanding loans to institutions, the educational sector has also not received much. In some ways, this is characteristic of Modi’s government: Plenty of talk and we’ll see about the actual performance some time later.

But this comes at a cost, quite literally in this case. The government has breached the fiscal deficit target it set for itself for this year, going from 3.2% to 3.5% and rejigged its “glide path” for fiscal prudence. A few years ago, this might have been better received by global markets, but with oil prices rising and monetary easing starting to end, it does not bode well for India’s borrowing efforts. Yields on government bonds spiked immediately.

It also offers less confidence about the forecasts for the coming year, which are full of aggressive expectations about revenue, even though the actual spending laid out in the Budget does not seem likely to spur much growth. A bet is being made on GST turning stable and that, in turn, bringing investor confidence back, but higher inflation and the looming spectre of the twin-balance sheet problem – with highly indebted companies and banks holding stressed assets – are as likely to be the main features of the coming year.

Jaitley may have done a commendable job offering a decent budget, one that makes do with what he has. But the finance minister no longer has the benefit of blaming his predecessors for his current predicament. Incrementalism did give way to big bang reforms, but those explosions have ended up being more destructive than constructive. Now he is simply trying to manage the fallout while singing praises to his leader in the corner in the hopes that no one will notice.

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Budget breakdown:

  1. Kumar Sambhav points out that, despite the big talk on agriculture and the rural economy, it is unclear where the actual money is.
  2. Shreya Roy Chowdhury speaks to education experts who say that, other than the expansion of loans for institutions, Budget 2018 is a non-starter for the sector.
  3. Mridula Chari takes a look at the new agricultural schemes promised in the budget, and finds that there is little money allocated for them.
  4. Nayantara Narayanan writes on how, with all its weight behind Modicare, Budget 2018 offers little for public health system.
  5. Shoaib Daniyal reminds us how Prime Minister Narendra Modi equated protectionism with terrorism in Davos, while his Budget happily puts fences around some sectors.
  6. The middle-class is feeling short-changed, writes Shoaib Daniyal again, thanks in particular to a new capital gains tax as well as the lack of any adjustment in the income tax slabs.
  7. The Field team took a look at outlays for sports, finding money for Khelo India, a merger of three schemes, and little else.
  8. MSPs, ModiCare and Hinglish: Rohan Venkataramakrishnan writes on how Jaitley’s Budget speech tried to shore up Modi’s rural credentials.
  9. Not everyone was happy about Jaitley switching between English and Hindi in the speech for the very first time, and many took to the internet to complain.
  10. The impression that the Budget was anti-middle class seems to have stuck quite quickly, also bringing out plenty of Twitter humour, with users saying “middle class gets debates, upper class gets rebates.”
  11. Smitha Nair has 5 quick takeaways from the Budget:
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.