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By blaming Congress for GST, Modi betrays nervousness about Gujarat

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 17 October 2017, 18:11 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's latest speech delivered to BJP's cadres in Gandhinagar presents a strong case against one of his own pet projects. Modi has been pushing for simultaneous elections to the Parliament and all state Assemblies in the country, but his speech showed why recurring polls are necessary.

In the middle of his speech, Modi switched from Hindi to Gujarati to address traders in his home-state and sought to alleviate their concerns over the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation. There was nothing new in the defence of note-ban, with the PM essentially waxing eloquent about how all the pain it caused was worth it because it will eventually lead to a critical dent in the black economy.

What was new was the line of defence Modi adopted on GST.

For the first time, he argued in favour of collective ownership of GST, saying that state governments led by all political parties, including the Congress – and not his government alone – are responsible for the GST. “Congress has no right to spread lies on GST. You are party (bhaagidaar) to all decisions,” he said.

But he wasn't giving Congress and other parties the credit for the long-term benefits of GST – far from it. What he cleverly articulated was an admission of faulty implementation of GST, before quickly passing on the blame to the Congress.

What the PM clearly admitted was that GST has “issues”.

This is the first time since the rollout of GST that Modi has admitted that it has led to problems for businessmen and that the government was working to correct the situation. What necessitated this admission, given that the brazenness is Modi's and it is his government's favoured strategy?

It's all about the votes.

Elections to the Gujarat Legislative Assembly are about to be announced and the governing BJP is pulling out all stops to ensure that its prospects remain bright. However, getting the PM to rush to the state every two weeks is an indication of something else. This already was Modi's fourth visit to the state in two months and another one is lined up for 22 October.

Ever since Modi first became chief minister of the state in 2001, this is the first time when the BJP will be going to polls without his face as the CM candidate. That's already a big challenge as has been reflected in the turmoil in the party's fortunes after his exit from the state in 2014.

BJP has faced crises like the Dalit and Patidar agitations against it as well as a leadership crisis because of which the party was forced to give the state not one but two CMs in two years.

Demonetisation and GST have only amplified the scale of the challenge before the BJP. Traders form the party's key vote-base and there is widespread anger among them over back-to-back setbacks to their business dealt by demonetisation and GST.

The note-ban led to a cash crunch that crippled small businesses because of their widespread dependence on cash.

By the time traders probably just started getting things back on track, along came the multi-layered GST. The tax reform measure first slowed down production because of the need to clear the pre-GST stock.

When filings began, businesses came face to face with the herculean task of filing three different kinds of returns every month in every state and union territory they are operating in. This slowed down the economy and bogged down small businesses.

Government data also, eventually, reflected this slowdown but Modi admitted this for the first time only in his Gandhinagar speech.

The implications of this admission and passing on of the blame to the Congress are clear. There is widespread discontent among Gujarati businessmen, like businessmen elsewhere, and BJP can sense it.

Whether passing on the blame for it to Congress will help the BJP in deflecting this anger will only be known at the hustings. For now, it's over to the Election Commission.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 17 October 2017, 18:11 IST
 
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.

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