Saturday 11 August 2018

Sonia Gandhi may be BJP’s 2019 trump card (Sunday Guardian)


Gone is Rahul’s ‘Shiv bhakt’ phase. Minorityism has returned to the core of Congress tactics and policy to much the same degree as during the UPA period.

Since 2002, Narendra Modi had been in the crosshairs of the Congress Party’s attacks far more than any other politician. Other important leaders, such as L.K. Advani or Arun Jaitley, had numerous friends in the upper echelons of the Congress Party. Only Modi seemed to have none, and by 2011, he was the most vituperated against where UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the government functioning under her direction were concerned. The Gujarat Chief Minister had emerged by end-2012 as the leader of the “Oust Sonia” sentiment that began rising in the country during the final four years of the 10-year era of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an honourable individual who somehow never could manage to run the government the way he wished it should be. Had Manmohan Singh used his Prime Ministerial prerogatives needed to sack even a very few ministers, who, despite their spotty record in both integrity as well as governance, were appointed solely because of perceived faithfulness in carrying out the “requests” made by 10 Janpath. Had Manmohan Singh found the nerve to undertake such an action, he would have had far more leeway than the inadequate space left to him by 10 Janpath during his first term and his still more negligible powers during his second stint in office. This may be contrasted with P.V. Narasimha Rao, who declined to compromise with the dignity of his office by making public genuflections to the Congress president, and was subsequently hounded by contrived legal issues until the final days of his life. Rao even faced a 10 Janpath-engineered split in the Congress Party that saw the rise of the BJP and Atal Behari Vajpayee to the top tier of power. Earlier, Charan Singh and Chandrashekhar, and later H.D. Deve Gowda and even I.K. Gujral stood firm on retaining the dignity of the office they held. Manmohan Singh either did not or could not emulate their example, and this situation accelerated the distaste building up within the electorate for giving a third consecutive stint in power to the Sonia-led coalition.
As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has had his share of problems concerning choices in both policies as well as personnel. Take taxes. Interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal has correctly pointed out that “lower tax rates lead to higher collections”. Hopefully, this will get conveyed by him to those officials in the Ministry of Finance who constantly say that “tax rates cannot come down unless collections go up”, forgetting the elementary reality that collections shoot up once tax rates are brought down to reasonable levels consistent with an increase in growth and individual welfare. The GST ought to have had a single rate of 12%. While Mercedes cars are of course not the same as cartons of milk, the former cost very much more, and hence the unit tax collected will be much higher. Regarding money kept abroad illegally, had the government fixed a low rate of about 15% as tax on moneys brought in (with no questions asked) from abroad, around $300 billion could have been secured. This money would have been spent or invested in the country, and thus more tax could have been collected. By ensuring conditions (such as low taxes and regulations) that promote the velocity of money, the increased number of rounds of expenditure would have led to collections that would have dwarfed the low pickings secured from the black money amnesty scheme (and its sky-high tax rates and penalties) put into operation by the NDA-II government now in power at the Central level. It is unfortunate that many officials fail to discern that tax collections need to be calculated across the entire spectrum and rounds of expenditure, rather than at simply the initial point. Repeatedly refusing to lower direct tax rates is an action that was not expected of a government headed by a practical son of Gujarat, possibly the most practical and businesslike state in India. Neither was a GST with such high rates and multiple forms. Fortunately, especially over the past six months, efforts are being made at making the GST a truly “Good & Simple Tax” as desired by Prime Minister Modi.
Had the reins of power within the Congress Party shifted fully to Rahul Gandhi from his predecessor Sonia Gandhi, the party would not have had to endure the humiliation suffered by it during the 9 August elections for the Deputy Chairpersonship of the Upper House. It would not have made the error of passing over regional party choices in favour of its own MP being put up for the contest, or the Congress president declining to even phone other leaders for support. The signal from the Congress nomination of B.K. Hariprasad rather than a regional party MP is that the party, still firmly in the control of Sonia Gandhi, will insist on the Prime Ministership, should the anti-Modi opposition get enough seats in the Lok Sabha to form a government next year. Earlier, it seemed that Rahul was in no hurry to be the Prime Minister, and was aware that it is not 2019 but 2024 that would be a better time to stake a serious claim for a job already held by three members of his family. It was Sonia Gandhi’s remote control switch that prevented Rahul from making the telephone calls and meetings with Arvind Kejriwal and others that could have ensured a much closer result in the Deputy Chairperson polls, including through less abstentions. Now that Sonia Gandhi seems back in effective command, gone is Rahul Gandhi’s “Shiv bhakt” phase. Minorityism—the conscious placing of so-called minority interests above the secular imperative of treating those of all faiths equally—has returned to the core of Congress tactics and policy to much the same degree as was the case during the UPA period. Voters rejected the “Sonia Congress” in 2014, and may recoil if presented with much the same party leadership and policies as was presented during the second term of the UPA.

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