Arun Jaitley, Pranab Mukherjee: Spot the difference

With the Modi government having completed a year in office, its economic record is the debate du jour. Turns out that the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) corruption and policy paralysis are now history and all would be well if only the economy would notice and jump to it (will happen by 2016… okay, by 2017 latest).

Now it might seem unfair to pile into Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, as foreign investors, taxpayers, Arun ShourieSmriti Irani and the RSS-leaning social media have, but here goes anyway. One criticism made of the government is that, save some important initiatives such as state labour law reform and commercial coal mining, it’s spent most of its time building on existing UPA initiatives (check here).

And it is Jaitley, rather than Narendra Modi, who is presently bearing the brunt of right-wing disenchantment. For instance, Firstpost Editor R Jagannathan wrote:

For a man who was brought in to reverse the economic follies of the UPA, Jaitley has instead chosen to make NDA a pale copy of UPA. His first budget was a flop, being a cut-and-paste job from his predecessor’s proposals; the second one was much better, focused and reformist, but he cannot deliver on it without more luck and sharper execution abilities than he has displayed so far.

If the second budget was “focused and reformist”, then so was Jaitley’s much-derided predecessor (and current President) Pranab Mukherjee. That’s because several key tenets of Jaitley’s 2015 budget share the same vision as Mukherjee’s 2012 budget, and the budget is really the most concrete instantiation of economic policy intent. The continuity is quite obvious from the chart below:

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 7.18.18 pm

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 7.56.26 pm

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 7.56.43 pm

These similarities illustrate the reality of economic policymaking in India: there is a broad consensus on its direction that goes beyond the particular party in power.

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