The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, addressed both the houses of the parliament on Thursday, commencing the budget session for the current fiscal year.
The interim finance minister Piyush Goyal is set to table the interim budget on Friday in what is regarded as the sixth and final budget presentation of the Narendra Modi-led government before the nation goes for the Lok Sabha elections due in May.
As has been the tradition since the independence of the country, the finance minister posses with a “briefcase” outside the parliament for photographers before delivering his budget speech. The tradition began when the country’s first finance minister R K Shanmukham Chetty presented the country’s first ever budget in the parliament on November 26, 1947.
It has been largely influenced by our colonial rulers who first started the tradition back in 18th century when Chancellor of the Exchequer or the counterpart of the modern day finance minister was first asked to ‘open the budget’ while presenting the annual statement.
In 1860, British budget chief William Ewart Gladstone used a red suitcase, similar to the one used by England’s Queen. The red suitcase used by Gladstone had Queen’s monogram embossed in gold to carry his bundle of papers.
The word ‘budget’ derives from the French word ‘Bougette’ which means a leather bag, thereby making the budget a metonymy – a figure of speech (about a speech, as it turns out) in which a thing (the budget exercise) is referred to by the name of something (the leather bag) closely associated with the former.
While Gladstone’s red box was in use for a very long time by British parliamentarians, only retiring in 2011, finance ministers in India have used their own set of bags, experimenting with colours, to present the budget speech in the parliament.
In 1998-99, then finance minister Yashwant Sinha used a black coloured leather bag with straps and buckles, while the former prime minister and then finance minister Manmohan Singh carried a plain black budget bag during his famous budget in 1991.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee used a bag that was similar to the Gladstone’s “red box” during his tenure, while former finance minister P Chidambaram maintained a low key profile with what appeared to be a bag with a lighter tone and softer leather.
However, present day finance minister Arun Jaitley used three different briefcases in his last three budgets and was similar to that used by Chidambaram.
The tradition of carrying a leather bag or a “box” to the budget speech by the finance minister has become synonymous to that of a bandhgala and a Nehru jacket of a politician.
First Published: IST