Looking beyond GST

In economic swaraj lies India’s future

The launch of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) at the stroke of midnight on June 30 – July 1, 2017 at the Central Hall of Parliament is undoubtedly a landmark event in transforming Federal India into a common market – a radical step forward in the country’s economic reforms for an all inclusive faster development. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minster Arun Jaitley deserve all credit and praise for taking considerable pains to firm up the historic concept, the foundation of which was formally laid by Dr. Manmohan Singh in the 90s.

It is a different matter that the Congress today suffers from a death wish. It boycotted the midnight event along with the Left Front, the DMK and few other parties on the plea that the GST concept in its present form is “full of flaws”.

Flaws, if any, could have been corrected at a later stage after assessing the GST working on the ground. Regrettably, logic and reasoning do not work with the Congress leadership these days. It invariably pursues the politics of negativism, little realizing that such a course of thinking ultimately becomes counter productive.

Prime Minister Modi has rightly observed, “GST is an example cooperative federalism which will always give us more strength to move forward together”. In fact, looking at India’s manifold economic and security challenges today, the country has no choice but to move forward together. This will require better communication and active consultation mechanism between the Centre and the States, irrespective of ideological and political differences, if any.

The Prime Minister has hailded GST as a “good and simple tax” which, according to him, should help business persons and put an end to “Tax Terrorism” and “Inspector Raj”, while contributing to the welfare of the people and fight against corruption and black money. Going by the experience of the operational system in the country during the past 70 years, the Prime Minster’s words, though reassuring, right now appear too good to be true.

As it is, leaders and babus at the local and state levels lack a sense of commitment to national goals and objectives. Instead of working for the welfare of the public, they work for themselves. To bring about a change in this mindset involves transitional pain and adjustment. For this purpose, the ruling elite has to set the right pace for social and economic justice on secular and egalitarian principles.

In his popular book “Revolution in the Revolution”, French philosopher – journalist, Regis Debray wrote:

“History advances in disguise; it appears on the stage wearing the mask of the passing of the preceding scene and we tend to lose the meaning of the play. Each time the curtain rises, the continuity has to be reestablished. The blame, of course, is not history’s, but lies in our vision, encumbered with memory and images learnt in the past. We see the past superimposed on the present even when the present is a revolution”.

I am sure the Prime Minister will get the message so beautifully narrated by Regis Debray. We are probably not yet cut out for a revolution, as was once passionately talked about by our former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju in an interview with a media person.

On the ground, there are signs of socio-economic unrest, which are generally overlooked by the ruling elite as a matter of convenience. Then, what is to be done if the leadership vision happens to be terribly blurred and even the mask loses the shine of the “preceding scene”. As, it is, the twin pillars of governance of India – the civil service and education institutions – are showing signs of cracks.

It is quite disquieting that the road ahead is littered with fanaticism and all forms of distortions. Even the concept of secularism and democratic values are being twisted and tattered by opportunistic politicians, spineless bureaucrats and their collaborators.

Should we give in? Certainly not, Mr. Prime Minister. We ought to keep our head high and not lose sight of principles and values while pursuing the desired changes in a determined manner. However, even for the success of GST, Prime Minster Modi has to create the right atmosphere by ensuring firm checks and controls of the fringe elements who take the law in their hands or talk loose on communal lines. These are matters of good governance and faster economic progress of all sections of society. In this regard, it may be worthwhile to make a fresh beginning with a reoriented civil service and police force. They can set the pace for good governance and all inclusive development process.

We need to realize that Indian politics does not follow straight line even in matters of economic reforms and ushering in the dream concept of economic swaraj (economic freedom).

Looking beyond the magic of common market of the three words of GST, we have to simultaneously and actively think of millions of poor people and the have-nots who are still groaning under the weight of denial and deprivation. The poor and the weaker sections of society have to be taken along on the path of economic freedom with a human face.

There are 60 million households that come under the poverty line. Their growth with social justice has to be tackled frontally by focusing on productive employment opportunities and other social and economic amenities both for the rural and urban poor. It is necessary for this purpose to change “Investment priorities and policies” and bring about institutional reforms with an infrastructural backup.

The ongoing policies of sanctions, grants, subsidies, free services, loan waivers, etc are aggressive because it stunts initiatives, self-dependence and sense of responsibilities. It encourages “Ma-Bap-ism”, the concept of the colonial era.

Here, it will be worth recalling the words of Rabindranath Tagore. He said :

“Swaraj” is the kind of liberation in which our people discover their truth, the truth of India. Freedom means not just political independence, but the freedom of each individual to become himself, only within the stream of communion of people with people”.

I believe that economic swaraj – economic freedom – can help us restore and recreate the fabric of an integrated and forward-looking national society as we all dream about. Mr. Prime Minister, if we are serious about making the GST system “the most relevant for the poor” and their welfare as you believe in, what is vital is to put the nation before the party and individual interest without using the poor and caste factors as part of vote bank politics!

Can we? I keep my fingers crossed. The message is, however, clear: while welcoming the GST reform, restless audience in the Indian political theatre today want their leaders to act firmly and decisively and fulfill hosts of promises of a government that works faster for the good of the people in the streets as well as for the uplift of farmers left behind in the economic march.

Indeed we have to move beyond the competitive politics of negativism and work for people’s common interest in a revived India. George Eliot has beautifully conveyed the idea in the following passage:

“Our deeds still travel with us from a far,
and what we have been makes us what we are”.

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