The Statesman: Midnight discord

Event-management, however slick and professional, is no substitute for governance ~ underpinning the latter is a general recognition that people are getting a fair deal, even in difficult circumstances.

The decision of several Opposition parties to stay away from the highly-dramatised ceremony to mark the introduction of an overhauled taxation system ~ popularly dubbed the GST ~ has, therefore, to be perceived in the larger context of a dangerously divided polity.

True that boycott of such a major change in the economic ambience does not go down well, or that GST was originally mooted by the UPA, and that almost all subsequent action has been taken on the basis of hammered-out consensus.

Yet it is not just “opposition for opposition’s sake” that robbed the event in the Central Hall of Parliament of a degree of its lustre. True also that some of the objections to GST raised in certain quarters are creases that can be ironed out with experience, and there is always scope for fine-tuning.

Yet the more harsh truth is that the government has conducted itself in such a confrontational manner that expecting accolades from across the political spectrum was wishful thinking. After the refusal to accept that there were shortcomings (and continuing difficulties) with the unilateral demonetisation just months ago, it was naïve of the NDA to expect kudos for the GST rollout.

To an extent the government is having to pay for the initial objection to the tax-reform that had been raised by Narendra Modi when he was chief minister of Gujarat ~ political memories are long and unforgiving.

All the glitter in the Central Hall would hardly suffice to wipe the proverbial slate clean. And that slate is not limited to the advertised advantages or disadvantages of GST. The polarisation of the people on communal, caste and regional fault-lines has ensured unparalleled electoral success for the BJP, but has simultaneously let loose mobs that started off with “ink-attacks” and allegations of sedition against those who thought differently, but have now converted themselves into lynch mobs.

Institutions are being systematically saffronised, the space for liberal thinking has been trampled underfoot.

The day’s leadership refuses to accept that the “India” as conceived by the Founding Fathers, and enshrined in the statute they adopted, is being corroded: even the Mahatma was described as a chatur baniya.

It was in another context that Arun Jaitley spoke these words, but they resonate with prevailing realities: “A dictatorial regime is often misled by its own propaganda. It becomes consumer of its own propaganda with nobody else believing it. It misled itself to believe that the people were in support of the dictatorship”.

That amplifies the “midnight discord” so evident in the Central Hall when GST was launched.