Why does Finance Minister pose with red brown leather briefcase on Budget day photo-ops?

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Those who have been tracking annual budgets in India over the years would agree that any given news report of a budget is incomplete if it is not accompanied by a photograph of the smiling & confident finance minister flashing a red or brown briefcase usually made of leather. When the economy is cheerful, they extend this tradition by sparing several minutes posing for photo-ops before entering the Parliament to present the budget. This has been the tradition followed by Indian Finance Ministers ever since the first Govt of India was formed under Nehru. Following is a photograph of Shanmukham Chetty, the first Finance Minister of independent India, posing with a leather briefcase just before entering the Parliament.
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How did India develop this tradition? The simple & straightforward answer to it is that it was derived from the tradition followed in Great Britain for the past 150 years. After Independence in 1947, India adopted several practices and systems from the British, and this tradition of posing with a red, leather briefcase before presenting the budget, is also a tradition adopted from them.

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In Great Britain, it is popularly called “Budget box” which is actually an obsession among the ministers. On the day of the budget, as soon as the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) of the British Govt steps out of his house, he proudly flashes the budget box to an army of cameramen, signalling his journey to the parliament to present it.

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The earliest usage of the budget box dates back to around 1860, when William Ewart Gladstone was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Great Britain. He was notorious for presenting very long budget speeches which lasted 5 to 6 hours!! Since such long budget speeches required lots of files & documents, he felt the need of a box to organize and carry them to the parliament (House of commons). A meticulously designed leather box (briefcase) called the “Budget Box” was presented to him by the Queen for this purpose, and the same budget box has been presented to successive chancellors, who in turn have been continuing this tradition of proudly posing and flashing it during budgets for more than a century. The following photograph shows the Queen presenting the traditional (original) budget box to a newly appointed Chancellor in the 1990s.

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Recently, it was decided to retire this 1860 budget box into a museum and it replaced with a shiny, new, fresh red leather budget box.

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In India, the “budget-box” or “budget-briefcase” is not revered as much as it is done by the Brits and hence successive ministers have been using different briefcases over the years. However, the tradition of proudly flashing the leather briefcase for photographers has been followed religiously every year in India. Not just in India, but even in most of the nations which were part of British colonies, have adopted this tradition of proudly flashing a leather briefcase on the day of budget. Following photographs are from Uganda, Zimbabwe & Malaysia.

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