Did you notice Sitharaman’s red budget cover this time? Here’s what was special

New Delhi: The Union Budget for 2019 has claimed a number of firsts for itself. For instance, it was not only the first budget to have been presented by the first full-time woman Finance Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman, but it also broke the age-old tradition —passed down to us by our British colonisers — of carrying a black briefcase to the Parliament for presenting the Budget.

In a sharp contrast this year, Sitharaman carried a red bahi khata (traditional Indian ledger) with her to the Lower House. Following much speculation on the matter, the Finance Minister herself clarified that her deviation was indeed symbolic of breaking away from British traditions. Commenting on it, she said: “I thought it is high time we move on from British hangover, to do something on our own. And it’s easier to carry too.”

The history of ‘the briefcase’

Carrying a red briefcase was a convention passed down by the British and is something that is followed by the United Kingdom till date. Our Finance Ministers have for ages carried briefcases to the Parliament on the day of presenting the Budget. Although they are not always red in colour, they have been a copy of the ‘Gladstone Box’ that is used while presenting the British Budget.

It’s called by that name because it was first used British Budget chief William Gladstone in the 19th century. The briefcase had the royal monogram embossed in gold, just like we have the national emblem embossed on the cover.

In UK, the briefcase is a legacy that is passed down by every Finance Minister to their successor. However, in India, every FM has carried their own briefcases.

What has been the tradition in India so far?

RK Shankmukham Chetty, who was independent India’s first Finance Minister, had followed the British tradition and had carried a Budget briefcase to the Parliament. Later, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru succeeded him and did the same while presenting the Budget in 1958. Over the years, the practice got institutionalised.

The only deviation in the history of India came when Krishnamachari (Congress) and Morarji Desai (Janata Dal) carried filed to the Parliament instead of a briefcase.

What do experts say?

Experts have dubbed Sitharaman’s decision to ditch the briefcase for a red cover as an attempt to break free of the colonial hangover and as a symbol of her being India’s first full-time woman finance minister.
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