Thursday, March 02, 2006

A budget speech more important than the budget -Nani?s take

Nani?s take

A budget speech more important than the budget


Finance ministers came and finance ministers went. Nani Palkhivala was always there. To us Bombayites, more important than the annual budget was Nani Palkhivala?s budget speech. Palkhivala was a doyen of the Bombay bar ? the great income tax expert and constitutional lawyer, who was considered one of J.R.D. Tata?s closest advisors.

Grandfather and I would walk across from our house to the East Lawns of the Cricket Club of India. We always went a little early as we knew that getting a seat would be a difficult thing. Nani Palkhivala would come at 5.30 pm and greet a full house. He would then begin his speech, standing with one hand on his waist. He was a bald man with thick glasses. The specifics of what he said elude me now, but I remember two things very clearly. The scathing attack on the socialist policies of the government and his plea for reform.

The audience grew more and more animated as the attacks gathered momentum. It was not a diatribe. It was always backed by facts and figures, which seemed to make his point completely obvious. There was always an international perspective to what he was saying, in the sense that he would quote chapter and verse from what was happening in countries around the globe, the ones which were reforming and the ones which were not.

He was a great one for unshackling the energy of Indian businesses, which he believed would release the enormous energies of the Indian people. He spoke without pause and without referring to a scrap of paper. He seemed supremely confident ? I was quite surprised, therefore, to learn later from lawyers who had appeared with him at the bar that he was always very tense before he began an argument in court.

He nearly attained his dream. He almost became the finance minister when the Janata Party came to power in 1977, but then the socialists opposed the appointment and he ended up being our ambassador to America. Had he become finance minister then, our reforms would probably have begun long before China?s did, and today China may have been nipping at our heels, instead of the other way round.

My grandfather and I always made our way home from the Cricket Club of India with large smiles on our faces.
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