India’s Modi goes slow on ‘big bang’ budget reform

NEW DELHI, July 13, 2014 (AFP) – The maiden budget from India’s new right-wing government has promised a return to high growth — but disappointed some who hoped premier Narendra Modi might use his thumping mandate to unleash radical change. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government opted for small steps in last week’s budget, in what it called “the beginning of a journey” after winning in May the biggest electoral majority in 30 years.

While some economists felt Finance Minister Arun Jaitley should have been bolder, Deepak Lalwani, head of financial consultancy Lalcap, told AFP it was not “realistic to have ‘big bang’ reforms so quickly”.

Jaitley pledged faster economic growth, tighter fiscal discipline, greater openness to foreign investment and revamped infrastructure.

But he left intact $43 billion worth of anti-poverty subsidies — raising questions about how he will meet ambitious targets to cut government overspending.

Jaitley’s predecessor P. Chidambaram noted acerbically that after criticising the previous left-leaning Congress government’s subsidies as “mindless populism”, the new man in the job did not touch them.

“Welcome to the real world,” Chidambaram remarked.

India’s hundreds of millions of po