Ahead of the Union Budget 2019 that is to be presented tomorrow (Friday, >5 July) by Narendra Modi-led BJP government after winning the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with a thumping majority, a peculiar ritual takes place where the finance minister poses with a 'budget briefcase' for shutterbugs right outside the Parliament on this day.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to present the Budget with her maiden speech, announcing the budget along with a briefcase. This year, in fact, the briefcase will be making its second appearance as an interim budget was presented earlier in February.
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.
Who started this tradition?
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.
Does Britain still carry out this tradition?
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.
How long has India been carrying this tradition?
The custom of carrying a suitcase on the budget day goes back to Independent India's first ever budget presented by the then finance minister RK Shanmukham Chetty on 26 November, 1947. He carried a leather bag.
Jawaharlal Nehru who presented the budget in 1958 has carried a black briefcase similar to what former prime minister Manmohan Singh had carried when he delivered the iconic 'Epochal Budget' in the year 1991. While Pranab Mukherjee, as Manmohan Singh's finance minister, carried a 'red briefcase'.
Piyush Goyal, who presented the interim Budget on 1 February 2019, carried a 'red briefcase'.
Even though the yearly appearance of the 'budget briefcase' seems to be a prop inherited by the successive Indian governments from the colonial legacy, the papers in these small leather bags hold the future of the country's economy and growth. It is the most powerful briefcase on that day.