The budget speech is one of the more important days for a country that is keen to know how their government plans to collect money - and spend it - for the next financial year.
Decades of over-spending and under-earning by successive governments have tuned us to expect the inevitable fiscal deficit. Over-spending per se is not a bad thing, if it is money used for investment in some future endeavour which will start to earn revenue. For example, a government that spends Rs 100 million on building a road that will last for 40 years and connect two cities can "earn" the money back through tolls. Or even add to the government's revenues from higher service taxes and income taxes generated due to higher economic activity caused by this better "connectivity".
All 81 budgets have been delivered by men, with varying degrees of testosterone - the male hormone that defines our "manliness". Some were bold and took us to levels of joy rarely experienced by men - but most were flaccid.
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When millions don't even have food to eat, our government is thinking about bailing out multi-millionaire CEOs!
Is this government really made up of our representatives or is it on the payroll of those corporate giants?
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This year, I did something far more sensible than listen to a budget speech.
This year, I attended "Women Changing India" the Fourth Annual Global Symposium presented by Barnard College.The invite for the event had come in a few weeks ago - before the date of the presentation of the 81st budget was announced.
Barnard College did not have to wait for an election result to decide the date of their Annual Global Symposium. And nor did they have three different programmes with the need to select the "correct" programme depending on the outcome of an election.
I decided to skip the budget speech and all the hullaballoo and tamasha that come with it. The series of expert talks and predictions; then the explanations and analysis....Of course, my colleagues in the research and investment teams did attend and take their laborious notes and m essaged me the "highlights"....
The real builders of India
The theme of the symposium was "Women Changing India" so every panellist was a woman with a far lower biological level of testosterone. And a generally more balanced view of life and the daily challenges that go with being a women.
Debora Spar, the President of Barnard College, spoke about how feminism started in Barnard and the real goal was the "collectivism" which may have been lost along the way. It has become an individual struggle in the US.
Feminism was a movement to give women, as a class, an equal opportunity. By this definition feminism is a huge success. Women can aim to be pretty much anything these days. That battle has been won. Now the battle is to seek a deservedly higher representation in senior positions of their work environment based on merit.
But the struggle for many women on a daily basis continues - at an individual level. The expectation of society, the conflicts of being a mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, and a worker for those who were working. The battle between doing "greater things in life" and the daily responsibilities. The guilt and fear that emanates from these daily battles.
But I did not attend the Symposium only to be reminded about the role of women and the daily challenges they face. I attended the Symposium because what many of these women did - and are doing - will determine the future of India.
The 81st budget speech may be the equivalent of a visit to a doctor to get your blood pressure checked. The Symposium was to feel the heartbeat of India stripped of its politics of caste, corruption, and religion.
India is thriving - because of them
Among the notable speakers on the various panels was Kiran Bedi, India's first and highest-ranking woman police officer. She spoke about what inspired her to be a leader. Her struggle to be accepted as a woman police officer and her final failure to be the head of the police department in New Delhi because she refused to compromise her integrity.
There was Mirai Chatterjee, the Director of Social Security at SEWA, the Self-Employed Women's Association. SEWA is a labour union for about 1.4 million women who now have access to health insurance and other basic rights that are denied to the 95% of women who work in India's "unorganised sector". These women have helped build the roads we drive on, the offices we work in, the apartments we live in, the malls we shop in, and even the stuff we buy from the malls or the grocery stores. But being part of the "unorganised sector", the women have had no unions to press for certain basic demands and needs. SEWA is now their union.
There was Shaheen Mistri, who founded Aakanksha at the age of 18, and now has 3,500 less privileged children in 58 centres and six schools in Bombay and Pune. Not happy with just the non-formal education she has helped provide the less privileged, Shaheen has cofounded Teach For India - a nationwide movement to build leaders in society by sending smart college graduates to teach in local schools for two years. The less privileged school children get access to new methods of teaching from young people. Those who get to teach become agents of change for those they teach, but they build skills that can make them future leaders and the ability to take on more responsibility.
There was Chavvi Rajawat, elected in February 2010 as the Sarpanch of Gram Panchayat Soda, District Tonk, in Rajasthan. Her ambition is to make her native village of Soda, 60 kms from Jaipur, into a role model for other villages to follow.
Yes, these speakers - and many others who I have not specifically mentioned - were there talking about what they were doing. And why they were doing it. What inspires them, the difficulties they faced and still face, and how they strive to overcome these challenges?
The fact that they were all individuals - and women - makes them wonderful role models for future women (and men) to follow and look up to.
The impotency of policy makers
So, I could have heard the budget.
I could have heard about some tax break and some tax take which would throw the BSE-30 Index into some sort of upward spike or downward spiral.
And I could read the fine print to see which industrial business house won some big favour - though they can win those big favours outside the budgets when ministers and governments collude to sell national assets like coal, iron ore, land, spectrum, for low prices.
And I could have heard some speculators grumble about why the STT was not made zero. And I could have heard some mutual fund CEO grumble about why their AuM is not growing anymore. Or some sell-side analysts grumble about India's stubborn inflation.
And everyone in the financial services industry would complain that their inflated bonus and salary structures are at risk.
And it is possible that there would have been a "path-breaking", gutsy budget but for that we need leaders with courage.
Men with conviction.
Men who can stand up and be counted and not be inhibited by "power politics".
Well, I happened to meet some of them.
Yes, dear reader, the real men were on those panels of women speakers that enthralled me and reinforced many of my beliefs.
They are building a wonderful India brick by brick, village by village, and child by child.
They happened to be women.
They were inspirational.
Why the Indian stock market is a "buy"
I am not a buyer of Indian shares because of the budget or because I believe that any government - or any politician - will deliver us a future that we deserve.
No, governments globally increasingly exist to serve the rich industrialists, to feed the fat global financial institutions, and siphon money for their family members and friends - not necessarily in that order.
I am an optimist on India - and hence on Indian stocks - because the real leaders and builders of India are not tainted by what's in it "for them".
They are driven by something that is divine in its simplicity and magical in its power. More strength to them and their mission.
And now back to the mundane: I have to read the budget speech and the notes made by my colleagues. And on Saturday, I will be bombarded with headlines that say nothing and mean nothing to 90% of India.
For most of India, their real finance minister and prime minister were some of those women on the panel. They do not give a budget speech every year and wait for the political chips to fall; no, these women live the change they wish to see every moment. And no firebrand politician - woman or man - can stop them.
To know more about "Women Changing in India" and connect to Global Barnard, you may want to visit their Facebook Page or follow them on Twitter.
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