Bahi Khata, Not Briefcase-Nirmala Sitharaman

Budget 2019: Down the years, finance ministers have carried red, black, tan and brown briefcases.

Bahi Khata

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman did not pose with the iconic briefcase, like her predecessors. In a departure from tradition, she was seen holding a red cloth folder enclosed with a string and emblazoned with the national emblem, which was described by officials as the “bahi khata“.

Chief Economic Advisor Krishnamurthy Subramanian said the Budget briefcase had been replaced by the traditional bahi khata in keeping with Indian tradition.

“It is in Indian tradition. It symbolizes our departure from slavery of western thought. It is not a budget but a ‘bahi khata‘(ledger),” Mr Subramanian was quoted as telling news agency ANI.

“Ms Sitharaman believes that leather made products are not auspicious for the big occasion, so she avoided the leather bag and took the bahi khata. This is considered to be auspicious. The Finance Minister has worked in the UK and she knows the tradition of our country. We must appreciate her decision,” he added.

Earlier, Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s first full-time finance minister, ditched another tradition. During the customary halwa ceremony before the Budget Session, she untied the red ribbon instead of cutting it; officials said she believed cutting a ribbon is not considered auspicious.

Nirmala Sitharaman’s red folder caused a buzz amid anticipation surrounding her first budget, also the first of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term. Especially as the word “Budget” originates from the French “bougette” or leather bag.

Down the years, finance ministers have carried red, black, tan and brown briefcases.

The “budget case” tradition started in the 18th century, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Britain’s budget chief was asked to ‘open the budget’ while presenting his annual statement.

In 1860, the then British budget chief William E. Gladstone, carried his papers in a red suitcase with the Queen’s monogram in gold. He went on to become prime minister. The same bag was used by several governments.

India’s first budget was presented by RK Shanmukham Chetty in 1947, months after independence. Ten years later, T T Krishnamachari carried something that looked like a file bag. Jawaharlal Nehru carried a black briefcase.

Earlier this year, then Finance Minister Piyush Goyal had carried a red briefcase before presenting the Interim Budget. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley before him carried a tan briefcase.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, as the finance minister who delivered the iconic 1991 proposals, carried a black bag.

Pranab Mukherjee, as Manmohan Singh’s finance minister, used a red briefcase similar to the Gladstone case of Britain. It was velvet, according to reports.