What’s the bottom line?
It’s official. The monsoon session is washed out. GST Bill will not be passed, barring miracles. What’s the bottom line here for the Modi Sarkar?
- We totally agree with R. Jagannathan of Firstpost – disrupting Parliament suits Congress. Like any kidnapper, It will simply up its ante and engage in further blackmail if its current demand is conceded. Whether Congress strategy will lead to electoral gains for that party is a different question we will tackle separately. It’s ridiculous opposition to the Naga peace accord gives ample proof this negative attitude and the scorched earth policy adopted by prodigal son Rahul.
- So it is wise for Modi to assume that for the foreseeable future, passing bills would be impossible, no matter how much it bends, bows or scrapes. Other than money bills that don’t need RS nod of course. This picture may not change much even by 2017, even if NDA were to win Bihar and do well in UP.
Is this a big disaster? Did India elect Modi to break records in passing bills? Is scarcity of legislation holding up Indian economy? Going by the feverish pace at which earlier Parliament sessions did so, one suspects that is what BJP seems to be thinking. Does India need another 500 bills to add to the mountain of court cases, backlog, bureaucracy, harassment, red tape and sloth? No, of course not!
Obviously, there are crucial bills pending. GST Bill for one, having hard time thinking up another, to be frank. This is not good news, in theory, but is not an unmanageable disaster. As far as other ‘reform’ bills go, BJP will face pressure from a variety of forces, including its own SJM/RSS/BMS dinosaurs. As the land bill fiasco proved, it is better not to start a battle without knowing victory is guaranteed. A defeat not merely takes you back to square one, it puts you lot behind.
That’s why we strongly feel this logjam is nothing but a blessing in disguise for PM Modi. Simply take the case to the ‘people’s court’, slam Congress for blocking progress and pass all blame for failures to that obstruction. And do other things at double speed.
The Plan B for PM Modi and BJP government
1. Get BJP/NDA states to make GST redundant through legislative and administrative measures
This is very much feasible. Something along these lines was debated in Europe too, when faster progress was held back by recalcitrant states.
After all, what is GST? It is a system of taxation that allows credit for input so that the final consumer pays tax on entire value added, without cascading effect of tax on tax. This means producers can manufacture where it makes sense. Paper work is simplified, goods move without too many checks, harassment, bribes and delays.
There is nothing that prevents friendly NDA ruled states boosting inter state commerce by liberalizing their own local sales tax laws and rules. Reciprocal arrangements can be made to mimic GST. Maharashtra can input credit to anything made in Gujarat, if same benefit is given to its manufacturers. Given the fact that large, contiguous parts of India are ruled by BJP and NDA, barring a few holdouts this will as good as ensure entire India is covered in no time.
Combined with intelligent administrative reforms (see 2 below), this can neatly sidestep Congress sponsored anarchy and have their CMs begging for a ticket on the economic gravy train.
2. Wind down red tape through administrative steps, without changing laws
We often hear that businessmen have to fill up dozens of forms, queue up at multiple government offices and beg numerous babus to get any simple work done. The standard cookie cutter response to this mayhem has been to try cut down procedures. This brings another problem – need to amend laws, giving an impression that workers safeguards and environmental protection is diluted and so on.
This is not the only way. After all, starting a restaurant (to give an example) in USA or any advanced society will also involve multiple approvals – food safety, fire protection, labor laws and working conditions, parking and other zonal restrictions, water and drainage connections, disposal of food waste and so on.
The big difference in these countries is that (A) these regulations are transparent and fairly applied and more importantly (B) it gets approved as fast as possible, without bribes and delays.
Now, doing exactly the same thing, is neither rocket science nor does it require revising any law. Just make the system move faster using same set of rules, and laws. Just amend rules here and there where needed, for which powers are available even today.
For example, instead of diluting factory safety laws and creating a huge hullaballoo, just get inspectors to behave. Clarify rules. In fact, this is exactly what AAP is trying to do in Delhi – by allowing bar owners pay up renewal fees yearly and get their licenses auto-renewed.
You get the drift. Hope Narendra Modi sarkar gets it too!
3. Focus on visible, tangible steps that benefits, touches each voter one way or other
The key is identifying groups of voters, preferably not by caste or religion but by other factors. It could be profession or vocation, place of residence and so on. Ask yourself, “Why did they vote for me? What is the ONE thing, cheap and effective, I can do for them that improves their lives, makes them vote again, come 2019?”
To give a simple example, let us take the case of construction workers. They are huge in number and have numerous problems. Simply giving them something – say accident cover, training vouchers, subsidized safety gear, toilet facilities at workplace (sad to see them defecating openly at or near their construction site because neither the builder nor the owner care a damn.), loans for educating children etc. could make them hugely grateful to Modi. They would never think of voting anyone else, whatever be their caste or religion. None of the steps listed here should cost a bomb.
Given its data gathering powers and technological wizardry at its disposal BJP can easily do a scientific study on such groups and come out with schemes targeting them, without throwing money in a bottomless pit like MNREGA. Which incidentally did not help re-elect the Sonia dynasty.
4. Find innovative ways to get around land acquisition issues
We keep hearing, from fairly knowledgeable commentators that land acquisition is not the biggest stumbling block. Exhibit A. If true, that’s good news. Although one may question why Modi wasted one year on the land bill. That’s water under the bridge, so let us skip that.
The point is, government has to publicly list all the big pending projects, current status along with reasons for their lack of progress and steps that are being taken. This puts pressure on everyone in the chain of command – local babus, banks, industrialists themselves, state governments and so on. It also brings land acquisition issues into sharper focus, leading to innovative and smart solutions – if that’s indeed the culprit. If the employment potential of each project is listed along side, it also puts enormous pressure on those holding them up – to explain their case to the jobless youth – be they foreign funded NGOs or opposition parties.
Moving projects to and surplus areas through intelligently targeted subsidies and incentives will also lead to saner choices made by those obstructing progress. Competition between states and districts will totally eliminate need for a two year fight on legislation that gets you nowhere.
Sadly such marketing and communication efforts are totally absent. In its place we have lots of airy fairy noise and equally vague criticism full of catch phrases and empty words.
5. Milk the commodity price crash for all its worth
It puts enormous funds, extra funds that UPA never had at its disposal, at the command of the regime. We are talking US$10-20 billion, each year. If used well, it can do wonders for 2019 that MNREGA could never do for Congress.
Quick win projects that create rural jobs, puts money and cash flow in the hands of large sections of populace and fuels demand for various consumer goods creating a ripple effect on rest of economy. That should be the goal.
Here, the government appears to be on the right track, focus on road building, infrastructure, railways etc. which tick various boxes in the list. Key then in execution and efficiency in delivery. Thankfully it has competent ministers running the show.
It is clear. Narendra Modi can spend the next four years fighting meaningless battles with anarchist opposition and jammed up Parliament or simply bypass them and build a new India. The choice will decide who hoists the flag come Independence Day 2019.