A friend who has friends in high places, told me that something unheard of happened at an important pre-budget meeting presided over by the Pradhan Sevak a couple of days ago. A young, junior minister, emboldened by the bouquets he had received from his partymen for making a wonderfully repugnant statement during an election rally, stood up and said, “We have been presented with a historic opportunity to overhaul the exercise of preparing the national budget – by not presenting it at all.”
Less hardy ministers let out a gasp but he went on undeterred: “The economy is practically at a dead-end. People think it is our lack of understanding of economic matters that has brought us to this pass. What they don’t know is how hard we have worked to bring the economy back to the Hindu rate of growth – garv se kaho hum Hindu hain.
“So, instead of presenting a national budget to highlight our ‘development’ agenda, let us present a budget addressing our ideological agenda. We are less a government and more a parivar that is always in mobilisation mode. Believe me, the people will applaud us because we represent the nation and they are all ardent nationalists. For the people who are not with us, I have a fitting response – Desh ke gaddaron ko…”
As he stopped for breath, an old timer jumped to his feet and said as furiously as is permissible in a party with a difference – “It is easy to identify upstarts by their clothes”, for the young minister rather fancied himself as a clothes horse. The senior minister of finance, who had been upstaged by her junior, looked at the old timer gratefully.
For some reason, the honourable Pradhan Sevak was preoccupied that day. The ministers surmised that it was because of the foreign news magazine which had so unfairly brought him down a peg or two, writing about him as if he was a mere politician, like those Congressmen, and not a giant figure embodying a Nostradamus prediction.
Truth to tell, that report was one reason why the Pradhan Sevak was glum. But my friend had been reliably told that he was troubled by something else too – it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to find interesting camera angles to project himself. Who knew better than him that ‘no camera angle’ equalled no optics, and no optics equalled no politics.
It was his deputy who intervened: “Let’s hear the young man out. We are a party with a difference in every way: we became the largest political party in the world by asking people to make missed calls; we enact a law like CAA and then start canvassing support for it when people start protesting against it; so, why not be the first party to not present the government budget on budget day. Anyone not inclined to hear him out is a Pakistani.” That shushed everybody.
The young minister cleared his throat and spoke: “In the reign of our honourable Pradhan Sevak, we have mastered the tricky manoeuvre of nose-diving to attain such great heights of un-development that I am overcome by the beauty of our sanskriti. Showing the wisdom of our ancient rishis, he did away with the Planning Commission, which gave us the freedom to initiate programmes and run them to the ground, to touch our sacred soil, punyabhumi. Demonetisation was a maha yagna, through which our people were presented with a rare opportunity to cleanse their souls, bless our honourable Pradhan Sevak’s noble soul. The mountain of NPAs, created by our public sector banks in the act of servicing our friends – service is god – is nothing but a foundation for the shimmering edifice our leader seeks to erect in the name of our mathrubhoomi.”
He paused for a moment – there was much to learn about declamation from the honourable Pradhan Sevak – and then proudly proclaimed: “We have finally reached a stage of salvation where no one wants to buy anything, no one wants to give credit, no one wants to take credit and manufacture anything, there is precious little revenue. ”
“Really? asked a backbencher who was burning up inside, seeing the attention the young minister was getting.
“Really, replied the young man. The growth rate in men’s innerwear sales has collapsed to near zero – a few weathered cheeks reddened – and that’s not a brief blip; biscuit sales are down – unthinkable; and air passenger growth is down 80 % for the first time in 15 years. Don’t you get it? We have done it! We have touched the pinnacle of non-performance, which makes us the first nation to earn the coveted title, ‘No country for a budget’.
The rest of the ministers looked at the deputy leader for a hint as to how they should respond to this performance. When they saw his mouth extend a hundredth of a millimetre, they knew he was pleased. They beamed. Mandir wahin banayenge, one of them ventured.
There was no response from the honourable Pradhan Sevak who was still lost in his reverie. So, under the able guidance of the deputy leader, the ministers discussed the idea of a nation with no budget, cancelling funds after funds that weren’t there for development sectors that weren’t performing (intentionally, but naturally).
As the discussions became louder, the honourable Pradhan Sevak’s reverie was broken. There was a cheerful, and relieved, expression on his face; he had just decided that the best way to escape the dilemma of not finding a new, desi camera angle, was to go on a foreign tour. There was much capital to be made out of pumping Trump’s hands a fraction longer, exchanging macho tales with Putin, ignoring Trudeau in his own land, sharing a joke with Bibi (Netanyahu), pulling Duterte’s leg….
He had just one question to ask: “How much have you allocated for aviation fuel for the coming financial year?”
Looking at the deputy leader, who immediately looked away, the young minister said: “Sir, we have achieved the impossible task of being a no-budget, no-fly nation. Under your guidance, not only is Air India being divested, we have divested air travel itself. Very soon we will have our very own fuel-free pushpak vimana.”
The honourable Pradhan Sevak’s eyes became pinpoints of anger. Everyone scurried for cover. The senior minister looked radiant from under the table.
Last I heard, the young minister was dubbed an illegal Bangladeshi migrant – someone reported him for eating poha – and banished to a cave in Kedarnath for one whole year without any cameras present. Moreover, after telling the deputy leader to take care of the budget – “remind the nation that the Congress Party has still not learnt its lesson” – the honourable Pradhan Sevak is readying to go on another goodwill tour of several world capitals.
His first stop will be London where he plans to hand-hold Prime Minister Boris Johnson through the finality of the split from EU. A mere budget cannot come between an international karmayogi and his dharma – and his camera angle.