Union Budget 2019: Nirmala Sitharaman does away with traditional briefcase, carries red bahi khata ‘symbolising Indian tradition’

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman bucked the briefcase trend and carried a reg bag instead for her maiden Budget which is to be tabled in the Parliament at 11 am. Sitharaman, who is the first woman finance minister in the last 45 years, reached Parliament and met with President Ram Nath Kovind as per tradition.

Why the red bahi khata

Doing away with the traditional brown budget briefcase, Sitharaman went for a red coloured bag, with the national emblem emblazoned on top of it. Minister of State Finance Anurag Thakur, Finance Secretary SC Garg, Chief Economic Adviser Subramanian and other officials were present with Sitharaman outside Finance Ministry.

Speaking to ANI, CEA Subramanian, when asked about the replacement of the briefcase, said, “Sitharaman believes that leather made products are not auspicious for the big occasion, so she avoided the leather bag and took the bahi khata wrapped in the red cloth. This is considered to be auspicious. Also, ditching the briefcase symbolises our departure from the slavery of western thought.”

“The Finance Ministerhas worked in the United Kingdom and she knows the tradition of our country. We must appreciate her decision,” he added.

According to Subramanian, it is in Indian tradition. Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, he said, “It symbolises our departure from slavery of Western thought. It is not a budget but a ‘bahi khata‘(ledger).”

The tradition of carrying a Budget briefcase goes back to the time of independent India’s first finance minister RK Shankmukham Chetty.

What is ‘Budget Briefcase’?

The answer lies in the word ‘budget’ itself. It originates from the French word bougette which means a leather bag. This ‘budget briefcase’ contains the printed budget speech.

It was in the 18th Century when Chancellor of the Exchequer or Britain’s budget chief was first asked to ‘open the budget’ while presenting his annual statement. In 1860, the then British budget chief William E Gladstone, known for his long speeches, used a red suitcase with the British Queen’s monogram embossed in gold to carry his bundle of papers.

 Union Budget 2019: Nirmala Sitharaman does away with traditional briefcase, carries red bahi khata symbolising Indian tradition

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with the red Budget bag. ANI

In 2010, UK’s red Gladstone bag had become so shabby that it was ‘officially’ retired. But India continued to follow the tradition.

India’s budget bag, though it has varied in colour and shape every year, is a copy of Britain’s quintessential red Gladstone box that has been used in every single British budget since 1860.

The Budget to be presented by Sitharaman  is expected to boost spending at the cost of short-term slippage in fiscal deficit targets as she lays down the Modi 2.0 government’s road map for the economy and the nation in the next five years.

Some believe Sitharaman may give relief to the common man by raising personal income tax threshold for certain categories while at the same time, upping spending on agriculture, healthcare and social sectors.