GST MAY GET THE NOD
So far, so good. Barring small differences over small matters, the past week in Parliament has passed without a major eruption. Both sides seemed to have acted with becoming restraint. Led by the Prime Minister, the ruling party appeared to be at pains not to cause the Opposition any offence for it to repeat its performance in the monsoon session. Narendra Modi’s invitation to Sonia Gandhi to discuss GST was a clear indication that he had finally graduated from Gandhinagar to Delhi. And was ready to practise consensual politics for the greater good of the people. This should stand him, and the Government he heads, in very good stead in the coming weeks and months.
On its part, the main opposition party too seemed to have shed its blind and unthinking hostility towards the Modi sarkar. It may have something to do with the growing up of Rahul Gandhi. As the Gandhi scion develops self-confidence — remember he is now beginning to speak without the aid of prepared texts — gains maturity as a leader, the party tied to his little finger too would begin to behave responsibly. Eighteen months after the pulverising electoral blow, the Congress leadership seemed to have gathered its wits, abandoned its “akela chalo” stance in favour of humbling alliances with other groups in order to regain relevance. After Bihar, the Congress leadership cannot be faulted if it were to believe that its own acchhe din are not far away.
In other words, the over-confidence and aggression of the ruling party and the irrational and confrontationist response of a demoralised and defeated Congress reflected a total misreading of Mandate 2014. Democracies do not have permanent winners and losers. In all democratic systems, change is the only normal. Look at the US. Barack Obama came on the heady promise of “Change”, with a capital C. Seven years later, he is in danger of going down as one of the most unpopular Presidents in recent history.
Nearer home, wise voters in the national capital gave an unprecedented mandate to that pretender-leader, Arvind Kejriwal. Ten months later, the Aam Aadmi Party has squandered much goodwill, wasting time in peripheral issues, playing the innocent victim, and generally indulging in grandstanding. Only a self-avowedly aam aadmi party could have thought of enriching itself in such a vulgar manner, giving its legislators — 67 out of a total 70 which are its own — a four-fold increase in pay and perks. Other parties would have feared popular outrage. Being the self-proclaimed messiahs of common good, the AAP has the luxury of dipping into the public purse for private gain. People are not dumb.
The point is that all politicians raise hopes at election time. But on coming to power even the best find themselves hamstrung by monumental difficulties and obstacles. Printing money to distribute goodies not being an option, the hard grind to a slow and steady improvement becomes inevitable. Toning up the administration, making policy changes through executive orders, getting parliamentary approvals wherever possible for progressive legislation are all non-glamorous tasks. People do not get impressed as easily as they do when a party promises garibi hatao, or achhe din. Both the heady slogans caused added disenchantment because they had raised hopes sky high.
This is not to suggest that in the last 18 months, the Modi government has sat idly by. It has not. A lot has been accomplished. Incremental reform is beginning to show results on the economic front. The economy is looking up despite the global slowdown. There is a small uptick even in fresh investment. Business confidence is returning slowly. But if the common man has not noticed the change, it is because it takes time for it to percolate to the ground. New jobs, new economic opportunities in the public sector are still rare, though the services sector is beginning to grow at a faster clip than at anytime before, thanks also to the start-up boom. Also, remember, for example, when the automobile sector registers high growth, as it has in the recent quarters, it means more employment for drivers, cleaners, garages, etc. Change in homeopathic doses is already taking place, if you care to notice.
In short, if our politics shows signs of returning to normal, our economy too is beginning to gather momentum. Hopefully, the conditions might be right for the current session of Parliament to finally give its nod to the GST Bill. All other major groups being already on board, one gets the feeling that even the Congress in its current, self-assured mood might drop the opposition. Behind the scenes, reportedly, P. Chidambaram mentors the Congress leadership on GST.
And there might be some concern that following the tax raids on his son’s companies for suspected skullduggery associated with the 2-G scam, he might prescribe an unacceptable stance. But, surely, the Congress leadership would know better than to be isolated by adopting an unworkable position on such a promising tax measure. We get the feeling that GST would finally get the nod in this session. Which will be good for the country.
A TRADE-OFF FOR GST?
In the Central Hall of Parliament, or rather the nation’s hall of gossips, there are some who believe that the Congress might still extract its pound of flesh before it supports the GST Bill. And what might be its price? According to these know-alls, a clean chit for the Gandhis in the National Herald case. Also, a reprieve for Robert Vadra in the Haryana and Rajasthan land scams as well. If true, the government might have to decide whether the trade-off between wider national interest and the private welfare of a couple of highly-placed scam-tainted individuals is really worth it. But when all politics has become personal, the government may not have any other option, especially when it appears determined to get the GST up and running from 1 April 2016.
TWISTING WORDS OF A STRAIGHT TALKER
Here is a question and try and answer it honestly. When someone says he cannot even kill a fly, how can you accuse him of killing a man twice his size? Is the man being compared to a fly? Only the perverse will answer in the affirmative. Now you know why we pose that simple, commonsensical question. We believe that the retired Army chief and junior Minister for External Affairs, V.K. Singh, is being unfairly targeted. Having been a soldier all his working life, General Singh knows no artifice, political correctness being totally alien to him. He shoots straight from the shoulder, without caring to embellish his words.
So, when someone thrust a television microphone in front of him and said that the Modi government was being blamed for the horrendous killing of two Dalit children in a recent incident in Haryana, the straight-as-a-reed soldier-turned-politician countered, “Even if a dog is crushed under a running vehicle anywhere they will blame the Modi government…” How that response even remotely suggests that he is equating children to dogs only the perversity of partisan politics can explain. Common people will find the targeting of General Singh as ill-motivated for wholly extraneous reasons. Incidentally, investigations revealed that the children were burnt in a fire started from inside the house, demolishing the earlier claim that the Rajputs had set the house on fire from outside.
Urban Development and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s fondness for alliterations and quirky repartees is well-known. The other day, speaking in the Rajya Sabha on the “intolerance” debate, upon being reminded by Chairman Hamid Ansari that he had taken too much time and the extra time would be cut from his party’s quota, Naidu good-humoredly reparteed, “ My party has got three and a half years still and nobody can cut that short.” And carried on as before.
Sometime later, a member interrupted, asking him to touch upon the on-going Madhesi protests in Nepal. Unperturbed, Naidu countered, “Madheshi is a videshi issue with deshi implications. When time comes I will speak on it also…” and resumed his speech