Living in conflict zone, looking at Indian budget beyond acceptable norms could be taken as contextual response. The context in conflict zone could vary, as budgets worldwide are viewed from a standpoint, which in simple terms translates into, 'what is in it for me'?
On that score, I do not find the budget geared to conflict resolution. The resolution that would make life easier by a willful attempt to untie the knots that shackle the very existence.
On the contrary, it remains tuned to maintain the status quo by keeping the knots tied-up. Apart from a minor change here and there, it sticks to the parameters set by Indian establishment. A new party at the helm of affairs hardly makes a difference.
The hike in defence budget continues unabated, affecting lives not only in conflict zone—Kashmir, Northeast, but in Indian heartland too.
While as GDP is plus minus 1.80 trillion dollars, total budget outlay for last 3 years varies around plus minus 17 trillion rupees. Defence allocation stays around 12 percent of the total budget outlay, one in every 8 rupees, with a hike of around 10 percent every year.
In 2013-14 out of a total budget outlay 16.65 trillion rupees, defence allocation was 2.03 trillion rupees, in 2014-15 out of total budget outlay of 17.63 trillion rupees, defence allocation was 2.24 trillion rupees. In 2015-16, out of a total budget outlay of 17.77 trillion rupees, defence allocation stands at 2.46 trillion (US$ 40.4 billion).
There is great hype over Narendra Modi's, 'Made in India' push in defence production. Downsizing the corporate tax from 30 percent to 25 percent over next four years is being advanced as a reason for boosting production, inclusive of defence production.
Once it comes to defence, patriotic fervor is raised, no questions asked. The sceptics however had long predicted a fillip to corporate friends of Sangh Parivar. Whether it results in indigenizing defence production, remains to be seen. Boosting defence production has geo-strategic objectives. India wants to break into big boys' league. The question remains whether it stands a chance on an equity basis, given the multiplicity of problems.
Multiple problems relate to an over-populated state with shrinking land mass and lop sided development. In comparison, America, called a natural partner has vast reserves, advanced skill development to support global reach. With more or less 17 trillion dollar GDP compared to India's 1.80 dollar GDP, a population one fourth of India, land mass of continental proportions, the ingredients are incomparable. The developing partnership seeks to contain, if not counter China.
How does India weigh vis-à-vis China? Chinese defence allocation is four times the Indian defence allocation. And it has an economy to back the multiplier. China sits pretty at Gwadar port with a ready access to energy sea-lanes.
Pakistan with 7 billion dollar defence allocation compared to India's 40 billion dollar allocation stays in a counter-balancing act by looping in China, with a pronounced effort to stay put as strategic partner of USA. Plus compensate conventional weakness by keeping up with its atomic arsenal.
Apart from geo-strategic posturing energy remains a concern, India's triple 'F' subsidy—fuel, food and fertilizer more or less matches defence allocation, it stays at 2 trillion rupees plus, in 2015-16 allocation, it stands at 2.27 trillion rupees, while as in previous fiscals, it was more or less 2.50 trillion rupees. Though petroleum has been rationalized to an extent, food and fertilizer subsidy continues to tax the exchequer.
Defence allocation and providing for subsidies both at 2 trillion rupees plus (2.46+ 2.27 equaling 4. 73 trillion) accounts for a quarter of total budget outlay of 17.77 trillion rupees. It leaves a measly 33,150 crore rupees for the healthcare sector, 68,968 crore rupees to the education sector including mid-day meals, 22,407 crore rupees for housing and urban development, 10,351 crore rupees for women and child development, 4173 crore rupees for Water Resources and Namami Gange Project.
Allocation for rural development continues to be around 800,000 crores over last three fiscals, one third of defence allocation. And that says a lot.
Indian efforts to get into big league could be counter-productive. India would be much better served in staying regional and serving regional interests.
Given that Chinese and Pakistanis might not be playing cricket, India's best bet remains to loop in China and Pakistan in developing a regional equation. Such an equation entails conflict resolution over a time bound period.
Regional energy needs pose another major challenge. Indian energy need is slated to hike up to 375,000 MW as per a British Petroleum study from the present 224,000 MW, a two third hike.
Whether in meeting her geo strategic or energy needs, India would do well to stay regional and promote regional cooperation, as both West Asian hydrocarbons and Central Asian gas—a cleaner energy source could be tapped by essence on regional priorities
Living in conflict zone with a stake in peaceful resolution of the conflict, free of violence of any sort, regional solutions remain the hope, as well as the prayer.
Apart from conflict zones in Kashmir and Northeast, it may serve the interests of Indian heartland much better. Serving the suffering India should be prioritized than making the shinning India shine much more.