Okay, let us come to the point straightaway. Despite the recent run of bad press, essentially triggered by rather poor last quarter GDP numbers, and glitches galore in the GST implementation, Narendra Modi is not going anywhere. No, not now. Nor in the near future. Nor have his chances in 2019 taken a hit due to the much-hyped tutored tour of Rahul Gandhi to the United States. The Prime Minister, all should know, is no pushover. Never was. Defying decade-long UPA effort to trap him by hook or crook, he fought his way to the top both within the ruling party and without, and cannot be expected to yield without putting up a bitter fight.
Yet, the truth is that notwithstanding the wishful thinking of the self-styled secularist-liberal crowd, which begins to salivate at straws, such as the Crown Prince’s recent choreographed show in the US, before those very straws too sink without a trace, Modi is determined to address the lag in economic management so that he can reap economic and electoral dividend in the next election. Granted, GST has caused a lot of pain all around, and the sooner it is relieved the better for everyone, including the economy and the people in power.
Haven’t you heard the pithy dictum “no pain, no gain”? Those who were out of the tax net, those who earned millions and yet paid nothing by way of taxes, those who stole from the people and fattened themselves enormously with oodles of illicit cash, are bound to protest. Black money hoarders, money launderers, crooks and criminals who gamed the system and lived in king-sized luxury cannot be the friends of this government. Truth be told, never before has India seen a government which has determinedly gone after the illicit businesses and tax-thieves. Which is especially commendable, given that the BJP is supposed to be a business-trader-friendly party.
Walking in the Lodi Garden the other day I overheard the head of a traders’ association lament that while Indira Gandhi had given the slogan of garibi hatao, she did nothing to harm the interests of the rich regardless of whether she did anything for the poor. However, Modi is definitely going after the rich and should give the slogan aamiri hatao. The remark reveals the heartfelt pain of those who for good seven decades had enjoyed the gains of development, without contributing their share to the public purse. It is this class which is the most vocal in making noises about demonetisation and GST.
But can anyone deny that it is easily the single-most important reform since Independence? Or can anyone say that it should not be implemented? Its timing too can be defended. The decision to press ahead with an imperfect GST was rooted in the belief that a flawed GST was better than none. With the Lok Sabha election beginning to loom large on the horizon, any delay in roll-out would have made the policy-makers jittery, implementing it closer to the polls. At least now the design and other shortcomings in its make-up can be rectified within the next couple of months. And on Friday, some of the more irksome problems were duly addressed. It is expected that with experience more such crumples in the GST rollout would be smoothened out. But there is no going back to the pre-GST era, when taxes were paid only at the pain of detection and detention. The GST system inherently is meant to force people to become honest taxpayers. Which is such a good thing, isn’t it?
Notably, what bears recalling is the fact that the private sector IT major commissioned to run the GSTN platform was selected by the UPA government long before there was any prospect of the 35-odd states and UTs agreeing on a common draft. A committee headed by none other than Nandan Nilekani, one of the founders of the company now running the GST platform, was empowered by then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to recommend the choice of the operator. And paid a huge amount as advance years before a consensus had emerged on the GST. Yet, the maximum headache is caused by an underperforming and error-prone GSTN platform.
Meanwhile, the anti-Modi loudmouths who day-dream about replicating A.B. Vajpayee’s 2004 India Shining reverse in 2019, might be in for a huge disappointment. The Sangh Parivar may have already taken the sting out of the concerted bid to magnify manifold the handiwork of a few loonies pretending proximity to it who indulged in wanton acts in the name of cow or love jihad. It was all along clear that these idiots could not have enjoyed the sanction of the Parivar and were merely exploiting the situation for private gain or to settle personal scores.
To latch on to the reckless behaviour of a handful of people in order to tar the entire ruling dispensation underlines the desperation of the Opposition, which remains paralysed for want of a credible leadership. Despite the nth attempt to re-launch the latest version of the Crown Prince, he remains a non-starter. The sooner it is realised that Rahul does not have it in him to lead the disparate crowd that passes for Opposition now, the better it will be for the few well-meaning souls on the Opposition benches. Whether he is vice-president or president of the jaded Congress, he cannot breathe life into a moribund party, which is well past its sell-by date.
The Congress offers neither an alternative vision, nor an informed critique of the Modi government. Even P. Chidambaram’s weekly homilies read like the laments of a loser, who having committed every sin he accuses, unfairly, of course, his successor of with the singular objective of protecting his son from the clutches of the CBI-ED. It is remarkable that in his every ministerial stint Chidambaram has distinguished himself for being linked to one or another act of wrongdoing. And his so-called dream budgets had ended up as huge nightmares for the economy.
The short point is that despite the recent criticisms of demonetisation and GST, the government is on course to rediscover its sure touch. Economic reforms, especially the bankruptcy laws, recapitalisation of the banks, “looted and plundered” freely in the UPA decade, proceed in lockstep with the direct and digitised delivery of welfare to the underprivileged sections. The pseudo secularist-liberals can cry their hearts out, but Modi appears determined to clean the Augean stables of the system. And earn a deserved encore in 2019.
UK judge to Vijay Mallya: You looted the Indian Republic?
Mallya: The British Empire looted India before me.
Judge (smiling): You are one of us. Bail granted.
Jihadi terrorists have reason to put down their AK 47s. Why? Because there wouldn’t be 70 virgin beauties waiting for them up in the heaven—Hugh Hefner is already there.