Photo Credit: Amlan Paliwal/IANS
The government’s sudden lack of urgency on the GST Bill possibly stems from the realisation that the proposed tax reform is not exactly the magic wand it was made out to be. In addition, the National Democratic Alliance government may have figured out that the legislation will not necessarily have an immediate impact on the economy. A stagnant economy would blot Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reputation given his rise to power on the promise of pushing up growth rates, creating jobs and controlling inflation.
It’s obvious that the prime minister does not want to put his popularity on the line. With this in mind, the government had decided to switch tactics. A delay in the passage of the GST would enable the government to portray the Opposition as anti-national and pass the buck for the country’s economy being in poor shape.
After openly confronting the Congress over the National Herald case in which Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have been accused of corruption, the BJP had also decided to take on the Aam Aadmi Party. The simmering tension between the Modi government and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal escalated into a full-blown conflict after the Central Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday raided the office of the AAP leader’s principal secretary in connection with a corruption case.
Accusing the CBI of raiding his office, a livid Kejriwal lashed out at the Prime Minister, describing him as a “coward and psychopath”. He later vented his ire at Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, alleging that the raid was ordered to look for an inquiry committee file pertaining to corruption in the Delhi District Cricket Association. The contents of the file allegedly implicate Jaitley.
The BJP has hit back and demanded an apology from Kejriwal, while Jaitley has insisted that the CBI did not raid the chief minister’s office.
Before the Kejriwal incident, the BJP sensed a good opportunity to gain political mileage by tarnishing the image of the Congress party’s first family. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were last week directed to appear before a trial court on December 19 in the National Herald case, which involves accusations of illegal acquisition of property worth Rs 5,000 crore.
The ruling alliance went on the offensive against the Congress leadership. Party spokespersons and ministers were instructed to press home the point that the Gandhis had indulged in corruption and that they were holding up Parliament and stalling crucial legislation because of personal legal troubles.
In keeping with this strategy, the BJP on Tuesday distributed a booklet on the National Herald case titled “Family Greed and National Blackmail” at its weekly parliamentary party meeting to provide talking points to its MPs. At the same time, BJP functionaries, ministers and MPs have been asked to publicise the facts of the case across the country and at various platforms.
With the Gandhis and Kejriwal already in the line of fire, it will not be surprising if an adventurous BJP decides to launch similar campaigns against other opposition parties in the coming months. With a string of assembly elections coming up next year, possible targets include West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the Samajwadi Party-led government in Uttar Pradesh, and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati. The alleged CBI raids at Kejriwal’s office could possibly be seen as a message to those befriending the Delhi chief minister that they may be targeted next.
The BJP’s aggressive stance against the Opposition on Tuesday is a far cry from the conciliatory tone it adopted three weeks ago. When the winter session of Parliament commenced on November 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended an olive branch to political opponents in his speeches and followed it up with an invitation to his predecessor Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss the opposition party’s objections to the GST Bill. In a rush to push through the legislation, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley also reached out to the Opposition in an effort to iron out their differences over the GST Bill.
But now, the BJP has clearly shifted the goalposts. A senior Union minister, who would earlier give detailed explanations about how the GST Bill would improve the country’s growth rates, on Tuesday maintained that the “Bill is important but not critical”. The government, he said, does not mind waiting till the next session to pass the GST Bill, when the numbers in the Rajya Sabha will possibly favour the ruling alliance.
These changed priorities were also evident from the fact that Jaitley wrote a blog on Monday fearing that the winter session would be a washout, shortly after he had lunch with the Congress leaders in an attempt to build consensus on the GST Bill.