“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, now the time has come when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”...
These are the introductory lines of the famous speech by India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Did one hear an echo of these lines on the night of 30 June / 1 July 2017? It of course didn’t sound like that but there appeared to be an attempt to give the happenings in Parliament a measure of historical pretence. One is referring to the launch of G S T in the Parliament by the N D A government.
The opposition especially the Congress of course is livid not just because the Government has walked away with the political mileage but appropriated the venue of the Tryst with Destiny speech the copyright of which they consider as entirely theirs. A section of the opposition led by the Congress boycotted the session after facilitating the unanimous passing of the G S T Bill. Without getting into the political reasons for the boycott, what perhaps irked the Congress was the use or abuse of the venue to which the party attach great sanctity. How could the launching of a bill that would tax people be equated with the struggle and sacrifice of millions of Indians? The hallowed precincts of the Parliament was used earlier twice while celebrating the 25th and 50th anniversary of independence. They ask how the B J P could reduce the preeminence of Parliament by launching a mundane taxation instrument however impactful it may be as a reform. Or was it just a case of the proverbial sour grapes for the Congress?
For the BJP the G S T is a game changer that can ensure rich political dividends. Use of a particular venue is not a big deal and nothing iconoclastic. After all it was just an important event and what better venue than the Parliament, especially when the First Citizen is present. Hyping and successful sloganeering have been effective. They of course succeeded in branding the UPA as corrupt. The Narendra Modi of course has been the single biggest factor in convincing the average citizen especially in the North of the Vindhyas about the credibility and acceptability as a leader. His success as a leader no doubt even matches that of Indira Gandhi. This has been possible because of building ‘’Brand Modi ” from his last tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat, amidst all odds and against the background of a demoralized and battered opposition. He has converted even negative situations to his advantage. After a disaster called demonetization, which was a misadventure according to many economists, the P M and his Government bounced back making a virtue out of that. He won almost all the elections, especially the one in U P, perhaps was one of the worst affected. Yet he continued to be popular.
Never in the history of independent India, propaganda and marketing have paid such dividends to a Prime Minister. Even when the victims and critics alike were almost angry, they voted for the ruling party.
One recalls how the poor and the marginalized who narrated horrors of demonetization which ruined their meager finances, were almost unanimous in asserting that they would vote for Modi ji. Critics may call it brainwashing or unflinching faith in populist glib talk, but so far the technique seem to have worked. According to media reports early reactions are mixed and discontented sections of traders from across the country are agitating. The P M and other leaders have been magnanimous in acknowledging the contribution of the opposition, of even those who boycotted the midnight launch, to the making of the G S T Bill .The financial wizard of the Government was ready with a caveat that there are a number of teething troubles, shortcomings and lacunae which will be corrected in the fullness of time. So until then we should be satisfied with the proverbial Curate’s egg! The boss can always be told that part of it is excellent!
We as a nation are given to the hyperbole. We are very liberal with adjectives like ‘historic’ whether it is a one sided cricket match or a maiden visit to a country say like Burkina Faso, we don’t fail to term it historic. We especially the present government are always in a mood to celebrate. That ensures that people too get a feeling of celebration and would think that the nation is on an upward swing. People at large seem to give the government a long rope. We have celebrated the tall promises without ground level implementation. But if the implementation faces roadblocks, it may turn out to be a very costly mistake which can lead to economic chaos. Even if the celebrated G S T like the Curate’s egg is half baked or ineffective, hyping and celebrations can definitely fool some people for some time. But of course, not all the people for all the time!
Prof.T K Thomas is a broadcaster, columnist and academic. Left A I R as station director in 1987 and his last assignment was with the Sikkim Central University as visiting Fellow.