No Punches Pulled: Staying the course on GST, yet Modi amenable to remove glitches
You have to grant it to Narendra Modi. Not in a long time have we had such a Prime Minister. He shows such single-minded determination to set things right that even the thought of two key State elections does not seem to deter him from his path.
Asked the other day to go slow on GST, at least till polling in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat was over, Modi ticked off the questioner, ruling out any backtracking on the most progressive tax reform since Independence.
Any other leader in his place would have mumbled goody-good stuff to delude the voters. Even the crescendo of voices shouting that GST was the death-knell of the BJP was of no concern. No, not to Modi at least. He remains self-assured about the GST as well as about a favourable outcome in the two States. That is the stuff leaders are made of.
The GST has caused a lot of pain to the ruling party’s own core support-base is a fact. It is partly true that pain stems from its hurried nature which had allowed a number of avoidable flaws to slip in – and which are now being rectified almost on a weekly basis.
But the major cause of the dire noises emanating from the trading classes is the fact that under the Congress’s socialist umbrella they had had a long and seemingly unending zero-tax holiday.
Now, any politician desirous of retaining power would ordinarily not alienate his own core base. But Modi is no ordinary politician. He seems to be made of sterner stuff, though one of his close supporters did not mince words, arguing that the most unlikely estrangement of the trading classes is more than compensated by the accretion of the under-privileged and the poor into the BJP fold.
There seems to be some merit in that argument. As a recent report in a daily newspaper which intrinsically remains hostile to the BJP catalogued, the relentless pursuit of big defaulters by this government is unparalleled in the history of free India. From the time of Nehru to Manmohan Singh, the capitalist class had a merry ride on the gravy train run by the avowedly socialist dispensations. The crony capitalists thrived on treating public funds as their own.
To give you but only one example, though tens of thousands of such crony capitalists are scattered around in the country, at one time there were nearly 200 mills under the control of the National Textile Corporation. After stripping them clean of all valuable assets and saddling them with huge debts, their owners abandoned them. Only for a collusive State to step in, ostensibly for the sake of the tens of lakhs of employees on their rolls.
After wasting tens of thousands of crores in running these loss-making mills, the socialists in power eventually allowed them to be shuttered down. But again not before indulging in another equally egregious collusive act, this time parceling out the mill lands at throwaway prices to crony capitalists in Mumbai and other places for building malls and swanky multistory commercial and residential towers.
Indeed, any serious student of the Congress version of socialism stands to profit by undertaking a threadbare research into the rise and fall of the NCT. This was an early version of crony capitalism before Manmohan Singh further refined it to grant 2-G licenses and coal mines, etc., at bargain basement prices.
The point is simple: genuine, ideology-driven leftists, that is, if there are any, would find a soul-mate in Modi who has forced the bigwigs of Indian business to pay up or else… That is why you see the Ruias minus their iconic refineries and steel plants, the Wish Town-wallah Gaurs struggling to ward off bankruptcy by selling assets in cement and power sectors, the Unitech and other shady realtors who had fattened themselves on public funds, thanks to the largesse of the UPA ministers who had ordered the banks to open coffers without any questions asked because that netted handsome commissions for them, are cooling their heels in prison.
If this is not the end of crony capitalism, what is? Never mind the inanities of that perpetually Pappu in mind who keeps on parroting `suit-boot-ki-sarkar’ on the stump in Gujarat like a wind-up toy. Speaking by rote does have a clear downside.
This is real rule-based governance. Modi is willing to consider changes in the GST wherever the taxpayers are facing genuine systemic hardships, but he is not willing to relent on Indians, rich or poor, contributing their due share to the public purse.
The socialist decades had made thieves of a vast majority of c earning Indians; Modi is stern on changing that bad habit and insists that everyone pays his taxes honestly. That is a huge and arduous project. It takes a bold and determined leader with firm convictions to transform the country.
Modi has provided ample evidence, notwithstanding the recent noises in the media and foreign-origin social media bots of the Congress’s Prince, that he is unwilling to succumb to populism, the default position of all his predecessors, to abandon a progressive tax which aims to inject honesty in the hitherto corrupt and hugely leaking economic system. Every right thinking Indian ought to welcome such a laudable attempt at cleansing the entrails of our economic system.
Meanwhile, after the initial hiccup following the demonetisation and the GST, growth rate is again looking up. Last quarter numbers from a large number of corporates indicate that the worst may be over and the economy is back on the path of healthy growth. There is an uptick in exports too. The booming share markets, a good barometer of the economic trends, suggest that the worst might be behind us.
Yes, there is some pain at the lower rungs of the food chain since the GST is arranged in such a manner that it sniffs at those who eke out a living in the vast informal sector. Taking care of their concerns should be a priority. Whatever changes are required in GST ought to be made without any further loss of time. The informal sector which sustains multiples of those in the organised sector cannot be lassoed into the GST net overnight. Patience, persuasion and, above all, growth will help in spreading the tax net further.
His social media ghost
It is an old habit of the Nehru-Gandhi family not to give credit to anyone - and to blame others but themselves for bad things - lest they come to pose a threat. From Indira to Sonia Gandhi, promising regional Congress leaders were systematically put down - with what damning results is clear from the woeful state of the once mighty Grand Old Party.
But, honestly, we did not think that Rahul Gandhi would stoop so low as to credit his dog, Pidi, for his smart-alecky jumlas on social media. Rather than acknowledge that the party is now spending a good penny on Indian and foreign brains to give him a make-over, he drags the poor animal into the public platform, certain in the knowledge that at least it can never challenge him. Or is it the Crown Prince’s way of telling Congressmen `love me, love my Pidi.’
Himanta Sarma found it humiliating to be treated inferior to Pidi and went on to dig the Congress’s grave in Assam. True, the Congress may not be teeming with self-respecting Sarmas, but at least Rahul Gandhi should consider toning down his social media act for another good reason: Quoting Ghalib and other catchy quips mismatches his real persona.
Like we had a colleague not long ago who could barely string a sentence and, lo and behold, one fine day he emerged as a great columnist, quoting long-forgotten historic and literary figures to make his point. Until yours truly told him that he should tell his ghost to leave the literary flourishes alone. So, Rahul would profit from staying, well.. Rahul. Acquiring a high intellectual profile runs counter to the ingrained Gandhi family brand.