A few minutes later, Sitharaman had thrown in the towel: She sat down, whispering that the rest of the Budget
may please be taken as read. The harsh white fluorescent lights in the Lok Sabha bounced off her face, highlighting a faint sheen of sweat.
It is a tribute to India’s democracy, however flawed, that the very same MPs who had harangued her intermittently from Opposition benches now surged towards her, anxiety writ large on their faces. One offered her some homoeopathic tablets, another advised her to stay seated, another grasped her hand wishing her good health... the crowd parted as Prime Minister Narendra Modi strode up to congratulate her. But it was mostly well-wishers from the Opposition and the NDA that kept the finance minister
cocooned with good wishes until it was time to leave. Sitharaman had recovered by then, and she waved to the gallery to reassure her family but it was empty: Her daughter was already outside waiting to be escorted to the minister’s room. "We’re worried about your mum," called out a reporter. Vangamayee smiled: “I’m sure she’ll be all right,” she answered.
Sitharaman needn’t have worried: The front benches in the Opposition were empty. There was no Sonia Gandhi, no Sharad Pawar; Trinamool Congress was holding the fort. "Sab to jail mein hain (they’re all in jail)," said Saugata Roy when Sitharaman read out a couplet by Kashmiri poet Dinanath Kaul, omitting his Urdu nom de plume ‘Nadim’ (Kaul wrote a poem in praise of Sheikh Abdullah when he was released from jail which is recalled in Kashmir even today). When the FM mentioned that an online degree programme will be offered by the country’s top 100 educational institutions to disadvantaged students, Vangamayee surreptitiously joined MPs in thumping the table. She would smile when her mother used the ultra-cool phrase "gaming the system" to describe GST frauds.
Wearing his railway minister hat, Goyal quickly shook his head when Sitharaman referred to "500 wifi-enabled railway stations". Obviously, the number is much more. But the outrage of the Opposition was expressed loudly when Sitharaman in one swift sentence announced that government would sell part of its holding in Life Insurance Corporation. The award for sartorial elegance must go to Trinamool MP Nusrat Jahan: She wore acid-washed jeans, a blue jacket, high-heeled white sneakers with a peach-coloured bag slung from one shoulder by a gold chain... tres mode!