The Words that Made Budget Speeches in the Last 5 Years

If a sector is mentioned a lot of times in the budget speech, it does not neccesarily mean that the funds allocated to it is high. In the case of “agriculture”, the weighted frequency of the word is the highest in the last budget, whereas the proportion of funds allocated to it was the lowest across the five-year period.

The analysis of the union budget over the last few days has largely focused on the fact that this is the last full budget of the NDA Government: an important statement towards agenda-setting for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. 

The union budget provided every year is not just a presentation of the account of revenues and expenditures of the government, but a political statement by the party or the coalition in power. The significance of political statements increases as elections approach nearer. 

In this article, we analyse, not the “fund” allocations, but the “speech” allocation by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the five budgets presented by him. The finance minister, by the act of mentioning the issues, allocates specific attention to different issues. It is a signal of what the government thinks is important or what it would like the people of the country to believe are issues that will be given serious attention by the government. 

An analysis of the five-year budget speeches of the finance minister can provide a fresh perspective to the budget analysis. The budgets also perform the function of framing, priming and agenda-setting by the government. It is important that the speeches address the issues regarding which the government has been lax over the term. 

Mere mention in the budget speeches may not turn into allocations or even actual spending. There has been some literature on how defense budgets and presidential rhetoric could be used to prime the citizens to get better approval (Druckman and Holmes, 2004; Barksdale, 2011). But, there have been very few empirical studies in this regard.

 

Themes

We first analyse how various themes were distributed in the budget during the last five years. The budget speech is usually arranged around themes and points are made on each of these. 

If we look at total points in the budgets, the 2014–15 budget had 251 points and was one of the longest budget speeches in Indian history. It lasted over two hours and five minutes and was 44 pages long.   

The 2015–16 budget, with only 133 points, has been the shortest budget presented by Jaitley. In the last three budgets, the finance minister made 190, 184, and 166 points. The thematic distribution is presented in figure 1.

 

 

In the first long budget of 2014–15, 19 points were made under the theme of agriculture which was roughly 8% of the total points made in the budget speech.

In 2015–16, this reduced to only five points. In 2016–17, agriculture and rural economy put together were discussed in 34 points. In 2017-18, it comprised 26 points.

The last budget speech saw the most number of points devoted to agriculture and rural economy yet: 35 out of 166 total points, making around 21% of the speech.

Health, education, skills, job creation, and the social sector have largely been absent as a major theme in this government’s budget speeches except for the last speech. The only other year where these themes covered a significant part of the  speech was in 2016–17. 

In 2016–17, there were 12 points (around 12%) made in this theme and in the last budget this was covered in 25 points (or about 15%).

Agriculture and the rural economy were the themes that received less attention to begin with, but which reduced further during the following three years only to appear a lot in the last budget speech. The social sector, which was virtually absent otherwise, was also covered a lot in the last budget speech. Though most of the issues pertaining to a theme are covered under a particular head, there is a possibility that some of these issues may also have been covered elsewhere in the budget.

 

18 Words That Need Attention 

To dig deeper on the kind of issues that get spoken in a budget, we further looked at the frequency with which some of the key words are used. 

We accounted for synonyms/stemmed words . For instance, “agriculture”, “farm”, and “farming” was considered as synonyms and a reference to each of these was counted under the same word. Similarly, stemmed words like “taxed”, ”taxation”, and “taxing” are considered as the word “tax” for the purpose of analysis. 

We first identified 50 most frequently used words in different budget speeches. We removed the prepositions and added a few words which we thought were important for the analysis but were not present in the top fifty words of any of the budgets. 

We have 18 words that we think are significant and need attention. An analysis of usage trends these words across the five budget speeches:

 

 

 

Tax

 In all the budgets, “tax” appeared most frequently among the words that ranged from 85 times to 126 times. 

Agriculture

Words like “Agriculture,” “City,” “Growth” received attention in the first budget speech, followed by a declining trend in the interim three years and got discovered by the Finance Minister again for his last budget speech. 

Interestingly, words related to agrarian and rural economy occurred the most in this budget speech leading up to the next Lok Sabha elections. 

The recent setback received by the ruling party from the rural electorate in assembly elections might have played a role in this trend.

Development

“Development” received a lot of attention in the budget just after the victory in Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Its frequency kept reducing over the years, until the latest speech when the finance minister used the word a lot (41 times). 

“Credit” and “Capital” show a declining trend starting from 2014–15 to 2018–19. 

“Infrastructure”, “Rural”, “Education”, “Employment”, and “Health” were uttered the most number of times in the last budget. Some of the words like "Digital" and "Reform" which have been among the favorite words of this government, appeared most in the 2017–18 budget. These were overshadowed by the emphasis on words related to "rural economy" in the 2018–19 budget.

Newer phrases like Artificial Intelligence (AI)/ Machine Learning (ML) appeared twice in 2017–18 budget and 10 times in the 2018-19 budget.

Similarity and Difference between Budgets

To analyse how the various budgets differ in terms of usage of words, we calculate similarity indices including Jaccard’s coefficient, and Sorensen’s coefficient.[1] These coefficients measure the similarity of budgets in terms of the words used and the frequency with which they are used. A higher coefficient implies a higher similarity across the two documents compared. Table 2 below shows the different coefficient values for the five budgets.

The interim budgets in the years 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 had high similarity indices. In particular, the similarity index was the highest for the budget speeches in 2016-17 and 2017-18. The least similar budgets were those that were presented in 2014–15 and 2018–19, the first and the last.

The high dissimilarity in 2014–15 and 2018–19 warrants some attention. “Tax,” “agriculture,” ‘manufacturing, “digital” and “health” were some of the words which received very different kinds of attention in these two budgets. 

Does Speech Allocation match Fund Allocation?

Some of the words whose weighted frequencies[2] reduced a lot in the three interim budgets made a comeback in the last budget in a larger way. The weighted frequency of the word “agriculture” in 2018-19 budget speech was almost twice that of the same in the 2014-15 budget speech. 

Similarly, “digital”  started appearing in the last three budgets. Weighted frequency of the word “healthcare” in 2018-19 budget speech was almost thrice that of the one in 2014-15 budget speech. 

Table 3 presents the trends in the speech allocation and the actual fund allocations  of some important items. 

 

There is not necessarily a positive association between the words allocated and the funds allocated.

If we look at “agriculture”, the weighted frequency of the word is the highest (0.62%) in the last budget, whereas the proportion of funds allocated to it was the lowest (5.16%) across the five-year period.

Similarly, even as the word “education” received the highest focus in the last budget, the funding allocated was the least in the same year. 

Also, for “healthcare” where the speech allocation increased significantly from 0.1% to 0.27% from 2017–18 to 2018–19, the funds allocated decreased from 2.28% to 2.24% in the same years. 

This indicates that the “speech” allocations need not necessarily translate into “fund” allocations. At the same time, the budget speeches could have priming effects based on the words used in them and could have significantly influenced the evaluation of the budget. 

This year, even as we find that there has been a decline in proportion of budget money allotted to agriculture and healthcare, the electronic media has largely portrayed the budget as a “farmer-friendly” budget with a “Modicare” health reform. 

These results need some caution as in most of the analysis, we have considered the words in isolation. The context and tone of the appearance of the word could make a difference to the inferences drawn in our study but then words have their own importance and as Rudyard Kipling once said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

 

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