Annual budget speeches of India are incomplete without quotes and verses from saints, poets and economists. From Allama Iqbal to Victor Hugo, Union finance ministers of yore have used poetry to make their points, embellish their jargon, and boost their arguments.
During her third budget speech on 1 February, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman recited Rabindranath Tagore (“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark”) to say that India’s economy is recovering slowly, but steadily, after being bruised by the covid-19 pandemic. Over an hour later, while presenting the Part B of her speech, which included taxes and reforms, she quoted a Tamil couplet from Thirukkural on the quality of a good king. A good king is one who is able to acquire wealth, guard it, and distribute it justly, she said.
We look at some of the quotes and poems Union finance ministers have used in the past five years while delivering their budget speeches:
Thirukkural is a clear favourite. Sitharaman quoted the masterpiece of Tamil literature last year as well in her budget speech, the longest ever in the history of Parliament, at the end of which she took ill. She cited Thirukkural to explain the “five Jewels of a good country"—health, wealth, good agricultural produce, happiness and national security.
The minister also used lines from Dinanath Kaul Nadim’s poem Myon Vatan (My Motherland), while speaking of a “blooming” and “united” India. Nadim, born in 1916 in Srinagar, was influenced by the works of the 14th century mystic poet of Kashmir, Lal Ded, or Lalla, and was at the centre of Kashmir’s progressive movement between the 1930s and 1950s.
In her maiden budget speech, Sitharaman quoted a couplet by Urdu poet Manzoor Hashmi: “Yaqin ho to koi rasta nikalta hai hawa ki ot bhi le kar chirag jalta hai (You can find a way if you believe in yourself, just as an earthen lamp can also lighten up despite the air blowing around).” She also quoted Chanakya to drive home a point: “Kaarya purusha kare na lakshyam sampa dayate (If we have determined efforts, the task will surely be completed).”
While ending his budget speech, Arun Jaitley, famous for his own poetry, quoted Swami Vivekananda, saying, “I am sure the New India which we aspire to create now will emerge. Swami Vivekananda had also envisioned decades ago in his Memoirs Of European Travel, ‘You merge yourselves in the void and disappear, and let new India arise in your place. Let her arise—out of the peasants' cottage, grasping the plough; out of the huts of the fisherman. Let her spring from the grocer's shop, from beside the oven of the fritterseller. Let her emanate from the factory, from marts, and from markets. Let her emerge from groves and forests, from hills and mountains.’"
Jaitley, again, used poetry to explain how demonetisation helped in reducing corruption and encouraged “greater formalisation of the economy”. Urging people to embrace the change, Jaitley said: "Iss mod par ghabra ke na tham jaaiye aap, jo baat nayi hai usse apnaaiye aap; Darte hain nayi raah pe kyun chalne se, hum aage-aage chalte hain aajaiye aap (Don’t be scared and stop—why are you scared for walking on a new path? Don’t worry I will walk in front you come behind me).
Jaitley, who started his speech by talking about the bad economy that he has inherited, recited an Urdu couplet. “Kashti chalaane walon ne jab haar kar di patwar hamein, Lehar lehar toofan mile aur mauj mauj manjdhaar hamein. Phir bhi dikhaya hai humne, aur phir yeh dikha denge sabko, In halato mein aata hai daria karna paar humein. (When the exhausted sailors handed the oar of the boat to us, we faced storms and rapids everywhere. But we have showed, and will keep on showing, how to cross the river in such conditions).”