What happens when the perceived importance of an event rises as fast as its relevance falls? The event is overanalysed and subjected to far-fetched conclusions. Greatness is first thrust upon the event. And if the event fails to live up to its perceived value, doom and gloom is predicted by the very same people who had created the perception-reality mismatch.
The annual Budget exercise fits this description aptly. If all the economic policy decisions taken in a year are listed and compared with the decisions taken or announced in the Budget of the same year, the former will outweigh the latter by a huge margin-and rightly so. The modern day economy isn't-and shouldn't be-held ransom to decisions announced on one single day out of the 365.
So, when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee says that his Budget was a victim of over-expectation, he was right. Yet he, like his predecessors in the North Block, is guilty of feeding the misconception. The Finance Ministry becomes out of bounds for journalists weeks before the Budget presentation. The Economic Survey-which increasingly has nothing to do with the Budget-is released only on the eve of the Budget.
The Finance Minister of the day reads out every word of his speech (the latest one had 11,700 words across 139 paragraphs) with an unmistakable sense of self-importance. Worse, they don't even bother making the speech elegant, interesting and comprehensible. It is left for the analysts to trawl through the dry and dreary prose for relevant points.
So, if Mukherjee wants to break out of the expectation trap, he should deliver no speech on the last working day of February. He should table only a simple income and expense account, which, too, can subsequently be broken into four quarterly installments. Till - and if - this happens we, like all other publications, do what we can attempt to do best: give you a smart and simple assessment of the Budget.
What does it take to transit from a highly successful career in the corporate world to the world of policy? Find out through the profile of one person who is best equipped to make this transition - Nandan Nilekani. Check out the insider account of one of the less celebrated successes of 2009-the swift and clean sale of Satyam. The state of infrastructure continues to be a national disgrace.
Yet, there are a handful of projects under way that hold out hope for a better future. We capture six such projects between pages 106 and 114. Private initiatives, even if small, can be much more efficient and effective in helping the poor than big Budget public schemes-see A Bolero Scheme and Digital in Devanahalli. Thankfully, there is so much more to business than the Budget. Hopefully, we and the FM will remember this when the next Budget is presented.