The Railway budget provided fireworks of an expected/unexpected type. It is expected that Mamata Didi would be her eternal and unchanging self. It is unexpected that one of her party colleagues, Dinesh Trivedi, the Railway minister, would stand up to her, and actually do what needed to be done. The hike in rail fares, coming after nine years, was desperately needed if the Indian Railways are required to continue the task they have been carrying out for two centuries, transport the common man and his family, and his friends and relatives, economically and safely across the country. The Railways are short of staff, rolling stock, track and worst of all, safety equipment, and this shortfall cannot be made up without raising funds, with fare rationalisation being an important component. It is interesting to note that five distinct railway unions, which are large and contentious bodies, have supported this budget. Presumably, as insiders, they are in the best positions to judge whether the fund raising measure was really essential. By the way, we don't recall the Minister curtailing their free travel privileges! So three cheers for Dinesh, the Unions, and a minus one cheer for Didi, making two cheers in all.
The Union budget provides a further case for two cheers. The runup to the budget, viz. the economic survey provides a two cheer case. The economy is not doing that well, but it is not doing that badly either, and has weathered the effects of worldwide economic upheaval with commendable resilience. Pranab Mukherjee has again carried out the difficult combination of doing what needs to be done, viz. reduce the deficit in these times of economic slump, without touching subsidies that will lead to a political fallout. Two cheers for the old fox. However, note that the real pain will come in dribs and drabs after this.
The final two cheers are for the biggest event of budget day, viz. Sachin Tendulkar's hundredth hundred! Two cheers as it finally came against Bangla Desh in Bangla Desh instead of coming as the culmination of those crucial knocks in Australia, and took the amount of time that it did, but it's done now, and all of India , especially Sachin, can get back to enjoying the game instead of holding their breath from the eighties onwards; so two cheers for Sachin, and two cheers for India too.
This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.