The finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a startling announcement on 20 September. She declared a drastic reduction in corporate tax. With cesses and surcharges included, companies were effectively paying 34.9 percent of their revenue in taxes. After the cuts Sitharaman announced, this rate would come down to 25.17 percent. In recent months, it has become clear that Indian economy is experiencing a worrying slowdown. The initiative was meant to counter this. The government likely expected that tax cuts would help shore up companies’ bottom lines, encouraging them to undertake measures that boost the economy—commonly, this includes doling out larger discounts to consumers, increasing workforces and bumping up capital expenditure, among others. The announcement sent markets into a euphoric frenzy, pushing the Sensex up by 1,800 points, its largest surge in five years.
Sitharaman had previously appeared keen to divert attention away from the slowdown. In early September, even after India’s GDP growth rate fell from eight percent to five percent in five quarters, the finance minister skirted questions on the economic decline during press interactions. Another example was her response to the crisis in the auto industry. In August, overall vehicle sales recorded the steepest fall in the 22 years since the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, an industry body, began recording this data. Domestic car sales fell by a whopping 41 percent compared to August 2018. For the same month, commercial-vehicle sales dropped by over thirty-eight percent while motorcycle and scooter sales separately fell by a little over twenty-two percent each. In August, India’s largest personal-vehicle manufacturer, Maruti Suzuki, decided against renewing the job contracts of 3,000 casual workers, owing to a decrease in demand. In a regulatory filing in September, the commercial-vehicle manufacturer Ashok Leyland declared that the company would observe 52 non-working days—an unpaid day off for its workers—across its manufacturing hubs in India, “due to continued weak demand” for its products.