The Lady in the House Has Nailed It, With Vision and Street Savvy!

(The Budget 2021-22 blog is published in tandem with the beginning of India’s new financial year 2021-22)

FM Nirmala Sitharaman delivers one of India’s best budgets of all time

Nirmala Sitharaman has had to wait for two prior budgets and an unprecedented crisis to sweep the markets and the nation off its feet. Throughout history accolades for triumphs are not new, but how about receiving accolades in a crisis? Furthermore, why and how is it that women seem to handle crises better? Whether home, hearth or the world, there is consistent evidence of women who have stepped in and pulled things back from the brink. Instances abound through the past decades with women ascending to the top whether in the political or corporate world viz. Margaret Thatcher (UK), Jacinda Arden (NZ) Angela Merkel (Germany), Winnie Byanyima (UNAids), Ursula von der Leyen (European Commission), Christina Lagarde (ex-IMF Chief), Kristalina Georgieva (IMF Chief), Indra Nooyi (USA), Lynn Elsenham (Sunoco), Beth Mooney (KeyCorp). These well might be inadequate examples in a very long list who’ve led the charge during some of the toughest economic crises the world faced. In these I also include the millions of faceless, nameless women who run their households and balance monthly budgets perpetually.

Research too supports this phenomenon. In the year 2020, a study by the Harvard Business School of thousands of women and men in crisis leadership, reveals that women score better on 13 out of the 19 competencies that comprise overall leadership effectiveness. Despite severe constraints women are found not to deter from continuing the long running programmes that enable employee development. Moreover, in a crisis, they come across as transparent while acting with immense integrity; women reach out to the stressed, anxious and frustrated sections of stakeholders and help soothe nerves (Zenger & Folkman, 2020). This exceptional leadership performance especially in crises, is once again borne out by looking at India’s Budget 2021-22 and its myriad implications.

Pardon the play on words but it can be only described as being historic because it is futuristic!

Generating Long Term Multipliers with Incremental Interventions

As Finance Minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman in the budget, firmly addresses the long -term focus on development while it commits to deliver performance in annual instalments. This outlook is an inherent tendency of most women, the ability to balance the current with the future. Though India’s Budget 2021-22 may be a move away from the past, it is similar to how women generally speaking would manage their household finance.

In typical households, we know women are in charge of the monthly expense budget, spending the assigned

amount on daily or weekly basis. Careful planning precedes the pay-outs for household expenditure. Some examples that women prefer to allocate money to is, investing in sensible food choices (positive indicators – reduced illness/fewer loss of working days), education (positive indicators –better skills/livelihood/job profiles), holistic development through sport, hobbies, art (positive indicators -personality/confidence/discovering true potential). In doing so, they are balancing instant gratification over long term returns. More often than not, one would find her unequivocal in her predilection for thrift and prudence; yet not hesitate to retract when extraordinary circumstances demand.

The FM, much like this typical woman prepared Budget 2021-22 for the Indian people.

The central idea of the budget has been to give a shot at the point of origin of the pain while applying the salve on the affected area. Let’s look at the allocations to bear out the analogy.

  • Agriculture credit allocation ₹ 16.5 lakh crores
  • Health and Welfare allocation doubled to ₹2.2 lakh crores.
  • Physical and core infrastructure allocation of ₹ 5.34 lakh crores and development financial institution with ₹ 20, 000 crores allocated to it.
  • Reskilled human resource, targeting youth
  • Inclusive growth targeting the socially and economically weakest
  • Emphasis on R&D
  • Defence ₹ 4. 78 lakh crores

A further elaboration of the implications of high capital allocations.

Agriculture is the bulwark of the Indian economy. In the year 2020, despite the extreme economic conditions the farmers of the country delivered. That is performance! The highest allocation to the agriculture sector is the example of rewarding performance while encouraging future food security. Additionally, agricultural market reforms for improving local supply chains (Shah, Mar 2020), wastage elimination, fair prices and choice and encouraging localised markets to thrive. If the above has been given priority, the logical interfacing sector that needs to be benefitted is the rural sector.

Therefore, rural development has received the next highest allocation of ₹194,633 crores. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) was given the second largest allocation. The National Infrastructure Pipeline has ₹103 lakh crores and an expanded coverage of 7400 projects. The MORTH had constructed 9,129 km of National Highways by January 2021. Contracts were awarded and payments disbursed to contractors in a timely manner. The vision for creation of better transport infrastructure lies in the core nature and multiplier potential of the same (one rupee invested in road construction leads to 2.5 rupees in income generation). Once again, not only performance is amply rewarded but the long -term objective of economic self- reliance is kept in focus. Sound trunk infrastructure lies at the core of economic development.

Allocation for smart cities of ₹ 53,108 crores and development of 5 more new smart cities is to ensure that people who travel on metros to work, use roads to deliver their produce to marketplaces, earn and spend in malls and commercial spaces, are actually helping keep the wheels of the economy spinning. Physical assets are durable and are mostly national in nature and therefore able to generate wealth for the users many times over while adding to a robust GDP.

Then comes the soft development priorities, healthcare, education, inclusion, R&D, and governance. Little wonder Madame FM decided to allocate a substantial amount when it came to education. Education with ₹99,000 crores has received an increased allocation than the previous year. The emphasis is on building a reskilled human resource, targeting the youth over the next five years. With 450 millennials and 472 million Gen Z in the country (IE, 2020), their future has to be insured. Who else but a woman to understand that its education only, that pays dividends over the longer term? Better education opportunities imply a globally competitive Indian human resource and resurgent economic development. All the sectors given priority have the ability to generate high employment multipliers in the short and medium term. Construction of infrastructure is the creation of physical assets which pay off over a long period of time when they are used by the industry and people.

With Budget 2021-22, FM has grabbed the opportunity of not allowing this crisis to be a wasted opportunity. Instead, she has pushed ahead by introducing systemic reform and how! She began with the pledge to begin cleaning up the government’s account books! Only a woman, with more than an average conscientiousness would. Perhaps more transparent financial statements would find favour with the Indian public tired of the corruption and international rating agencies. For sure, it’ll do wonders in improving our ranking in the Transparency International surveys.

The acid test of any budget’s acceptance comes not from the de rigueur followed by its formulators but the perceptions of the people of the country who receive it. The proxy to understand the latter’s sentiment is the stock market. The market voted with its feet, as the Sensex went up by 2000 points in the week following February 01, 2021. This massive rally had happened only once before in 1997. In the unprecedented time of COVID-19 the economic turnaround for India looks likely imminent and more than a mere chance.

While conceding a higher fiscal deficit (6.8 percent) for the current year and aiming at reducing it to 4.5 percent by 2025-26, FM’s budget has a shot and a salve to heal the wound left by COVID 19. Like a true matriarch she’s rewarded performance, censured non -performance, extended kindness and provided succour to all sections of Indian economy who’ve roughed it out in the past year. The Budget 2021-22 is a budget to heal the long festering national wound with the pandemic being its abysmal point.

The economists could continue their analyses, political colleagues their dissections, but those in workplaces and on the street seem to be in good cheer. Despite her eligibility to be in the front row of the benches as a senior minister in the Prime Ministerial Cabinet she delivered these master strokes from the third row of the Upper House of the Indian Parliament.

Once again, she proved, it could only be a woman, and for that matter, a woman of substance, who could play tough, calm, kind, unyielding, determined and a humble visionary, all at the same time!

Dr. Mona N. Shah

Mona N. Shah, is an expert in the field of education and research. Her work in the built environment has been considered substantial in providing thought leadership to the sector. The built environment is a vast sector that covers practically the whole gamut of human activities. As founder and director of Vayati Systems and Research she leads initiatives in leadership, education, skills training and research in infrastructure, real estate sector and related industries.


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2. MORTH Report, Monthly Summary of Principal Activities of the Ministry

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5. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (2020). Women are better leaders during a crisis.

6. ENS (2020). It's time, Gen Z is ready to rule the world. Indian Express, April 12, 2020.

7. McKinsey Report (2009). Women leaders, a competitive edge in and after the crisis.

8. Corinne Post, Ioana Latu, Liuba Belkin (2019). A female leadership trust advantage in times of crisis: Under what conditions? Psychology of Women Quarterly. Volume: 43 issue: 2, page(s): 215-231

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12. Bing video, 2020. "Like Tea Bags…": IMF CHIEF praises women's role in fight against pandemic

13. Leah Rodriguez Dec 9, 2020. Why are women leaders so great, and how do we encourage more of them? (

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