The Union Budget for financial year 2021-’22 evoked contrasting reactions, with the opposition parties criticising it and calling it a pro-corporate move, while the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Cabinet ministers hailing it as a vision for an “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said instead of giving cash in the hands of the people, the government was selling the country’s assets to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “crony capitalist friends”.

Many other politicians shared Gandhi’s view. Nationalist Congress Party leader and Maharashtra Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad tweeted: “The new budget in simple words ... #India_For_Sale.”

NCP’s Maharashtra chief spokesperson Mahesh Tapase said Union Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman used flowery words in her Budget speech to hide the “real intention of privatisation”, reported PTI.

Communist Party of India General Secretary D Raja also criticised the Budget for being pro-corporate. “This Budget is the continuation of the aggressive, pro-corporate economic policies the Modi government has been pursuing,” he said. “It is a pro-corporate, pro-big businesses Budget. It is pro-international finance capital, the FDI [Foreign Direct Investment]. So, this Budget has nothing for the poor, for the suffering masses.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that the Budget was anti-poor. “They [Bharatiya Janata Party] lectures others on nationalism, but in practice, they are the ones who are selling the nation,” she said. “They are selling everything from PSUs [Public Sector Undertakings], Insurance, Railways and Ports. This is a Budget to deceive the masses. It’s an anti-farmer, anti-people and anti-country Budget.”

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaraman Yechury termed the Budget as “rhetoric”, and said that it only benefitted corporates. “Budget projecting self-reliance promotes self-subservience to corporate profits through a loot of national assets and large-scale privatisation,” Yechury said. “FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] limits in LIC [Life Insurance Corporation] and financial sector hiked for profit maximisation. Pandemic misery growing and health allocation reduced. Unemployment mounts and MNREGA [Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Act] cut by 42%.”

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav said that the 2021 Budget was not for the development of India, but for its sale, reports ANI. “Earlier, they sold Railways, Air India, Bharat Petroleum, and others,” he added. “This Budget is about more such entities that will be sold including gas pipeline, stadium, roadways and warehouses.”

Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal also alleged that the Budget sought to sell India’s precious assets. In a series of tweets, he also claimed that north India has been ignored in the Budget as it was not going to polls but poll-bound states have been given sops. Badal said that the government was silent on various matters, including unemployment, agricultural unrest and revenue generation.

“Halving of Agriculture Income instead of announcing proposals of doubling agricultural income, the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] budget will effectively reduce earnings by half,” he added.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said that Budget focused on the election-bound states. He described the Budget as “completely disappointing” for Rajasthan and said no concrete provisions were made to address the challenge of unemployment, which has worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic. The chief minister also said the middle-class taxpayers hoped that the Modi government would give some relief by changing the income tax slab, but it also did not happen.

The Congress also said the Budget was a case of “wrong diagnosis and prescription”, and that Sitharaman could have been “brave” by extending help to the poor, but she instead chose to be “timid”.

“She deceived the people of India, especially the poor, the working class, the migrants, the farmers, the industrial units that had been closed down permanently, and those who had lost their jobs, both regular and informal, and are still looking for jobs,” Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram alleged.

He said that it was a “cruel blow” to the average citizen, including farmers. “The budget was a let down like never before,” Chidambaram said. “This budget, like the previous one, will unravel sooner than you think.”

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh claimed that the Budget reflected the Centre’s “persistent efforts to sideline” non-BJP states. The Shiv Sena also said that Maharashtra was ignored in the Budget.

Vision for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, says BJP leaders

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said this Budget was for an “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” and will strengthen the country’s economy. “Congratulations to Finance Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman for presenting the first Digital Budget which lays the strong foundation for a Self-Reliant India,” Singh tweeted. “Inspired by PM Shri Narendra Modi’s vision of Inclusive Development, this Budget will expedite India’s economic transformation.”

In another tweet, the defence minister said that special attention was given to to economic reforms, employment generation, capital formation and creating infrastructure in India. “Based on [the] 6 pillars of good governance, this Budget will usher India into a new era of inclusive growth and prosperity,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Budget was for farmers and the agricultural sector. “It will contribute to the doubling of incomes of our hardworking Annadatas [farmers] and invigorate the sector with futuristic technologies,” Modi tweeted. “Credit availability will improve, APMC [agricultural produce market committee] apparatus will be strengthened.”

BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda praised the Budget for being “all-inclusive”, touching every section of society. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath also said the Union Budget will prove to be a milestone in upgrading India’s economy and will ensure development of all sections of society.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the new Budget was clear and balanced. “I congratulate finance minister for bringing such a Budget despite the adverse impacts of Covid-19,” he added.

Many BJP leaders were seen using hashtag #AatmanirbharBharatKaBudget when tweeting about the budget.

India Inc hails budget

Bharti Enterprises Chairperson Sunil Bharti Mittal said the Budget boldly spelt the government’s growth agenda and a march towards building a new and prosperous India. “The budget clearly has the stamp of our Prime Minister with a clarion call for ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ and ‘Vocal for Local’,” he said.

Vedanta Resources Executive Chairperson Anil Agarwal described it as “very reformist”. He said the thrust on infrastructure will boost growth. “By increasing spending and not imposing any additional direct taxes, the government has delivered the right stimulus to the economy,” Agarwal said.

Bharat Biotech called the allocation of Rs 35,000 crore for Covid-19 vaccination a “far reaching” initiative. The company said that the decision would help the country become free of the infection.

Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla also priased the Budget and said that the initiative will help India recover rapidly from this pandemic. “Hopefully, this will also encourage more innovation and expansion in the sector,” he added.

The Union Budget

Sitharaman announced a slew of measures in her third Budget speech to revive the pandemic-hit Indian economy. She proposed doubling healthcare spending to Rs 2,23,846 crore, increasing Foreign Direct Investment in the insurance sector from 49% to 74%, and warned that the fiscal deficit for the financial year of 2021-’22 will be wider than expected.

While the income tax slabs were not changed, the finance minister said that pensioners who are above 75 years will no longer be required to file tax returns. The government also announced infrastructure projects in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam – four states which will go to the polls in the next couple of months.

She also introduced a vehicle scrapping policy, recapitalisation of public-sector banks and divestment of some state-owned lenders. Most of her Budget speech focused on the Centre’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” vision to make India self-reliant.