Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presented the Narendra Modi government’s final budget on Friday. Though the Budget was termed an interim one, as 2019 is an election year and the term of the Narendra Modi-led government ends in May, several analysts have said Goyal broke convention as the Budget was packed with major welfare schemes. By convention, outgoing governments present an interim Budget of expenditure and receipts instead of a full one.

Goyal’s proposals included a full tax rebate for individual taxpayers with annual income up to Rs 5 lakh, pension scheme for workers in the unorganised sector and assured income support for farmers with small landholdings. Several Opposition parties also criticised the government for its “election Budget”.

Newspapers across the country highlighted these welfare schemes in the Budget, especially in an election year.

The Hindu summarised the interim budget with its headline “Sop Opera”. An illustration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi playing a piano only drove home its analysis. The daily highlighted how the government’s Budget focused on the major categories – farmers, informal sector workers and salaried taxpayers – in a bid to gain their favour before the parliamentary elections, which are expected in April and May.

The Times of India’s coverage also focused on the sops in the context of the looming General Elections. The headline “20,19...Modi Goes Full Steam” also punned on Modi’s reported stint as a tea vendor.

An illustration of Modi serving tea to varied segments of society was given prominence to indicate that the Budget had something for everyone, including cattle. It also highlighted that Goyal’s speech was almost as long as most full Budgets.

The Indian Express punned on the term Direct Benefit Transfer with a headline “Directed Benefit Transfer” to indicate the Union government’s bid to incentivise voters. The daily published a cheerful photo of Finance Minister Piyush Goyal carrying the briefcase with the budget document inside it.

A report on the front page highlighted how the Budget has given the Bharatiya Janata Party an opportunity to do some damage control after it lost recent elections held in three major Hindi-heartland states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

“Interim Budget, Final Pitch” is the headline the Hindustan Times chose on its front page. The daily used a graphic to showcase the Budget highlights with an illustration of Modi and Goyal using an over-sized megaphone to make their Budget announcements. The daily also pointed out that the government had its eye on the middle class.

Interim = Daylight Bribery” screamed the headline on The Telegraph’s front page. The newspaper accused the government of “reinventing” the meaning of interim to include tax and farm sops to secure votes in the polls.

The Mid-Day carried an illustration of Modi and Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal throwing packages including pension schemes, farmers relief and tax rebates from a helicopter. It described the interim Budget as a “full-fledged election manifesto”.

The Economic Times also called out the Budget as an election gimmick with a headline that read “Modi begins vote count”. The daily said the government had failed to stick to its promise of delivering an interim Budget in view of the polls. “Nothing interim about it” and “Mother of Election Budgets” were other headlines on the newspaper’s front page.

The Tribune’s headline said “Modi opens purse before polls”. It used a graphic to categorise the Budget provisions.

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