Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the last full-year Budget of his government on Thursday. A day later, almost all newspapers, through screaming headlines, straps and colourful graphics, declared that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government had sounded its poll bugle. Mint tried no further than “Politics, Politics, Politics” for its lead headline.
Assembly elections will take place in eight states in 2018, before the country goes to Lok Sabha polls in the summer of 2019.
“Modicare”, the healthcare bonanza Jaitley announced on Thursday, was also in focus across front pages, with headlines such as “BJP insures Bharat” and “FM prescribes Modicare for Bharat” taking the cake.
The Indian Express saw a “clear political overtone” in Jaitley’s Budget, and ran with the headline “Economics with Pollitics”. Headlines of each of the four stories the newspaper picked to cover parts of the Budget on its front page were somewhat critical of new schemes, and even betrayed mild sarcasm: “Rural poor is the focus, cost is breach of fiscal target”; “5-lakh health cover for 10 cr poor, prescription awaited”; “Assurance on MSP but for govt, rural is more about infra than agri” and “10% market tax in name of helping real economy”.
Dainik Bhaskar changed its masthead for the day to read “Budget Bhaskar”. Its lead story split the Budget into two parts: one for the poor, and the other – not so much – for the middle-class. The headlines said: “Poor farmers, long live!” and “Middle class, stay alive”.
Hindustan Times had two stories on its front page, one summarising the Budget speech, and the other focused on the scheme that Jaitley called the “world’s largest” healthcare programme – “Modicare”. The paper ran with a large headline, “’18 going on ’19”, another reference to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The newspaper said, “The focus of Budget 2018 is clear proof that the NDA is all too aware that there is only one more year to go.”
“Modicare” is the focus of The Economic Times as well. Above the masthead appear the words “Budget 2018: Poll Dance”. The front page also has a graphic with Jaitley’s budget briefcase revealing what’s on his agenda: pictorial representations for healthcare, women and agriculture are accompanied by a checklist.
Pointing out a “clear political message”, the newspaper’s anchor story calls out the Budget’s pro-poor credentials and what it means for the rich, with the headline: “Suits & Boots Pay For Gram and Garib”.
“BJP insures Bharat”: screams the front page of The New Indian Express. A graphic shows Bharatiya Janata Party National President Amit Shah leading the government into the 2019 elections, as Narendra Modi looks into a telescope to see what 2019 looks like.
The main headline of The Times of India says, “It all adds up to 2019”. A large graphic on The Times of India’s front page shows the nine “rasas” of the dance form “Budget Natyam”, describing elements of compassion, boldness, humour, anger, love, scariness, amazement, revulsion and peace of mind in the Budget.
Straightforwardness defines the interpretation of the Budget by the Mint front page on Friday: “In the end, politics defined the economics of the Union Budget of 2018-19” is how its lead story opens. The headlines say nothing but “Politics, Politics, Politics”, and the strap has no mention of “Modicare”, or for that matter, even a single key highlight of the Budget. All it says is that the Budget “sets the stage” for the upcoming electoral contests.
On similar lines, Business Standard’s headline is a simple “Pre-election Budget”.