Millennium Post

In the name of national interest

GST roll-out further reduces the autonomy of the States which was taken away at the time of Partition .

In the name of national interest
"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce", said Karl Marx. It is unlikely he predicted the farce that took place in New Delhi on the last day of June. At the stroke of midnight on June 30, 2017, history repeated itself as a farce, as Indian Union's incumbent BJP government put together a dazzling show, ably supported by corporate media, barely concealing their glee at this "revolutionary" step – the Goods and Services Tax or GST. The tragedy that led to this farce had happened on another midnight hour when perfectly autonomous sets of linguistic nations with a good degree of mutual cooperation was made into a super-centralised system called the Indian Union.

The GST or the tax system that ends the autonomous power of individual states of the Indian Union to change the tax rates in its realm according to its own needs is but a natural corollary of the process that was set in motion in the midnight of one August day in 1947. And while that plan to transfer power from colonial whites to their chosen natives went about with history repeating itself first as tragedy, Bengal, my motherland and Punjab were partitioned. Millions were displaced. Their world was not the same again. That was cataclysmic.
The Indian Union will not be the same again after the GST. It effectively destroys whatever was left of a federal structure in a Constitutional system that in spirit wants to destroy all sources of power except Delhi. History was indeed first formed, before the tragedy, in 1757 when the British chose Mir Jafar to transfer power they had wrested from the last head of state of a sovereign united Bengal. The British got the revenue powers. The natives were straddled with power without means, and soon they understood that power lie where the money lay. This is true today. By capturing nearly all elastic sources of revenue from the states, it is clear that New Delhi of 2017 had learned well from New Delhi of 1947 and Calcutta of 1757. Post GST, diarchy is back in its most naked form in recent times in the subcontinent.
GST has been the apple of the eye of every Delhi headquartered so-called "national" party-led government. Even when they themselves admitted as Yashwant Sinha did, that a GST-like thing might not survive a legal challenge on the question whether it is a violation of the federal structure that is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Things have moved, slowly but surely, under both Congress and BJP, thus underlying the continuity of the New Delhi deep state that is ever conspiring against state rights, even when the saffron BJP mask changes placed with the tri-colour Congress mask.
GST's final hurrah at Delhi, the pomp was in vain. Much of the opposition was absent. Trinamool led the way by announcing the boycott first. The Left Front, which rarely aligns with the Trinamool also joined. So did many others. Tamil Nadu, the leading manufacturing state, has been opposing not the detail or date of GST roll out but the concept of GST itself, given its superior level of discourse and understanding of Centre-State relations and hence the implications of GST vis-à-vis state autonomy.
Large organisations of small and medium scale traders observed a protest shutdown. Beyond Delhi's think-tanks, fawning media, pathetic Indians anxious for an ego boost from their couches, pimps and other such creatures that Delhi ideology produces, the mood was sombre. There was no consensus, however much Arun Jaitley wants to claim it. From concealing crucial data from state Finance Ministers to feeding them with outdated data to blackmailing states by threatening to bring GST as a money bill, this government has tried every Parliamentary and administrative tactic, legal and illegal. It promised one tax but ended up taking away tax rate changing rights from the states, while the Centre retains the right to impose and change cess rates without consulting anyone except itself.
The lie of consensus was poignant that midnight hour in symbolic ways. The Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley switched from English to Hindi in his speech, thus underlining the brazen Hindi supremacist ideology of his party and government; hardly a consensus building measure in a federal Union where a majority have non-Hindi mother tongues. Maybe he saw reality, he saw who had boycotted and realised that it was mostly non-Hindi India that was boycotted and maybe he had decided to address those who had not boycotted. And that was mostly Hindi India. That was mostly Hindu India. That was mostly the Hindustan region of India. The GST is a nail in the coffin of federalism and a huge victory the Anglo-Hindi corporate kleptocracy that has now aligned with Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan in a marriage of mutual convenience.
The GST will further destroy the few methods left to the states to generate revenue independent of the Centre. The long-range design is clear – to homogenise the whole subcontinent for the benefit of big money and its wishes. From stupendous public investments in a 'world-class' NCR to dedicated corridors that will rip across people, their livelihood and their cultures, the force that hates states rights, linguistic rights, human rights, environmental rights, but singularly upholds the 'right' to chose from a larger array of consumer goods points to something called 'aspiration' as a liberating force. This force loves individuals and hates families, loves bands of shoppers and hates consumer right collectives, loves eco-tourism and hates environmental clearances. In the end, this era belongs to those who can smoothen the transfer and investment of big capital – wherever, whenever – and destroy all impedance on the way.
These impedances, known in the subcontinent as jal-jangal-jibika-jomi-jonmobhumi, human rights, family ties, tribal homelands, rights of states and federalism and such things are holding back GDP numbers. Remove them and New Delhi will shoot to the stratosphere and will pull up the rest to the clouds. But those who want to stick their ground, peoples whose lives, dreams and economies are not out of this world but evolve on the land of their ancestors, speed-breakers are their only hope.
Surrender by the states on the question of GST is tantamount to the betrayal that the Indian Union is, after all, a federal union of diverse people with diverse aspirations, identities, and markets. Markets are for the people and not the other way round. The illusion of free movement of goods is a cover for the free and unhindered extraction of profit from places with weak manufacturing bases. In this game, forces bigger than the Congress(I) and the BJP put together have a stake in pushing the states to the wall. 'National interest' always brings the 'national' parties together. The people and federalism be damned.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
Garga Chatterjee

Garga Chatterjee

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