Another feather in Modi’s cap

Another feather in Modi’s cap

Rajeev Sharma
Two years is virtually mid-term for an elected government in India whose tenure is of five years and normally this is the time when the government in office is at its weakest trough. This is normally the time when the opposition is roaring and the ruling party is whimpering, trying hard to keep a semblance of good governance.
This has been the normal trend in Indian polity for decades. But the Narendra Modi government defies this conventional trend. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Modi government has definitely bucked this trend. Even after being in office for two years and two major electoral losses — first in Delhi assembly elections in February 2015 and then in Bihar assembly polls in November 2015 — the ruling BJP continues with the same fervor and strength as it began two years ago.
The Indian National Congress, the 130-year-old major opposition party without the title and privileges of the main opposition party in the Lok Sabha, continues to remain in the snake pit.
The reason is one big factor that Modi’s BJP hasn’t been hit by any major corruption scandal thus far. The Congress party has tried its hardest to project a different picture but its efforts have come unstuck thus far. At least that seems to be the narrative in the public perception.
The Modi government, needless to say, likes this scenario and is now preparing to heap even more miseries on the dilapidated opposition, particularly the Congress. The next big sign of the Modi government launching a frontal assault on the opposition is just about a couple of weeks away.
The Modi government is planning to move the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill as soon as the Parliament is expected to resume its monsoon session from July 18 — a session that is to conclude on Aug. 12.
The Congress party seems to be clueless as of now as to how to deal with the upcoming political ace from the Modi government. The GST bill is billed as the mother of all legislations aimed at beefing up the national economy in a big way and ushering in a new era of economic reforms. If the GST bill is passed in the Parliament’s upcoming session, as the government plans, it will become the biggest economic reform by the government of India that will inevitably put the country on a much higher economic growth trajectory than ever before.
The GST bill has had an interesting and a checkered political history. It has been hanging fire for well over a decade. It was first mooted by the previous BJP-led government of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but it was stalled by the Congress-led opposition.
During the Congress rule from 2004 to 2014, the Manmohan Singh government wanted to implement the GST but it was stopped in its tracks by the BJP, which was in opposition then. Now the Modi government is set to have the last laugh and appears to be confident of clinching the GST victory after all and the Congress-led opposition seems to be outnumbered and outmaneuvered.
The GST bill has already been passed by the Lok Sabha and the Modi government is all set to bring it for the consideration of the Rajya Sabha, the elders’ house, as soon as the Parliament reconvenes for the second and last phase of the monsoon session next month.
The Congress party is caught in a cleft stick. It cannot oppose the bill or even abstain during the voting because it is a piece of legislation that the Congress-led government had vigorously batted for virtually during its entire decade-old rule. Moreover, opposing the GST bill would brand the Congress as an irresponsible opposition party in the public perception that is blocking a major piece of development-oriented legislation.
The GST bill will usher in a common and uniform taxation regime, which will pave the way for foreign direct investment (FDI) worth billions of dollars and thus unlock the development potential for India.
Moreover, the Congress has been completely isolated on the GST issue and Modi’s BJP is well aware of the Congress party’s predicament.
Politically speaking, if the GST bill were to become a law, India would be well poised for a giant leap in its developmental goals and the BJP would be unstoppable.
But then things are not all that easy for the Modi government either. The GST bill is a constitutional bill, which must be passed with two-thirds majority from both houses of the Parliament as well as two-thirds of Indian states.
While the former procedure vis-à-vis the Parliament is eminently doable, the latter route involving the state assemblies is a long and tortuous process, even though the Modi government is well poised to achieve this objective as well. Even if considering that the Parliament is going to pass the bill next month itself, the process involving the state assemblies will be a long haul as at least 18 of India’s 29 states are constitutionally required to give their assent.
Lastly, even after the GST legislation were to be finally implemented, its benefits will start percolating after about two years only. By the time this happens, India will be in the cusp of next general elections due in 2019.
Undoubtedly, the GST match has all the makings of a keenly fought cricket match, which will inevitably go down the wires. But the Modi government has an upper hand. Watch this space!
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view