Gone are the days when finance ministers used to seal their mouths weeks before the Budget. They would stop attending public meetings or making any pronouncement at least for two months preceding the Budget, lest they dropped a hint at the kind of fiscal policy change that might be in the offing.
Now finance ministers talk relatively freely about the nature of the fiscal policy change that might be announced. And the reason is that by making such statements, the finance minister does not reveal any Budget secrets. The broad contours of the fiscal policy changes are well-known in any case.
In 1993, Manmohan Singh declined to attend the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting held in Davos, Switzerland as it came close to the Budget. Singh was then the finance minister and he was in Geneva to attend a UN human rights conference, but did not make himself available at Davos.
Chidambaram, as the finance minister in the United Front government, broke that tradition. And this year, too, he would attend the WEF annual meeting to be held later this week.
Yashwant Sinha as the finance minister of the Vajpayee government also contributed to the way budgets have become less glamorous and less mystifying. He advanced the time of the presentation of the Budget from evening to noon.
Citing that the presentation of the Budget at 5 pm was a British legacy and needed to be discarded, he began presenting it a little after noon. With that, experts and analysts had more time during the day to understand the Budget implications and make the right conclusions. This also put an end to late evening desperation to find out what the Budget actually meant.
Sinha also began making a host of policy announcements in the Budget speech. But many of these measures announced in the Budget had to be rolled back and this ensured that successive finance ministers like Jaswant Singh and Chidambaram eschewed this practice. That robbed the budgets of whatever excitement that was left.