For little over a year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been facing the 'Gabbar Singh Tax' barb from Congress president Rahul Gandhi along with a political promise to junk the present Goods and Services Tax (GST). The charge said that GST bill was "badly conceived and terribly executed". But at a ceremony on Friday, the GST Council-- comprising of finance ministers of all states and Union Territories-- headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, was given the change maker of the year award by Former PM Manmohan Singh.
It is to be noted that the award given by the daily Business Line picked GST Council for the work it has done to bring on stream a one tax for all India which has attempted to reduce the tax burden on consumers, rationalised indirect taxation and simplified rules for compliance by the assesses. The Congress including Rahul Gandhi and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram may have politically positioned themselves against the NDA government-driven GST, but that didn't stop the founding father of the GST, Dr Manmohan Singh, from handing over the change maker of the year award to Arun Jaitley.
However, though the former PM did not speak on the occasion, for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and those who back GST, the moment when Singh presented the award to Jaitley was loaded with symbolism. A BJP leader said "The optic value of the moment is huge. Of course Dr Singh is a gracious man and he knows how difficult the exercise to subsume a slew of taxes in the country under one umbrella GST was. The finance minister has ensured that the consensus rule was not breached and now almost 99% commodities are off the high 28% slab as the one tax for India moves towards lesser tax slabs than initially,".
To be noted that in a politically surcharged atmosphere due to the approaching phase one of polling for the next Lok Sabha election, the BJP immediately grabbed the 'optic opportunity' offered by the award and took to Twitter to takes a jibe at Rahul Gandhi. This indicates that the BJP feels it has a counter against the Congress offensive on GST and the award may resonate during the campaign. A senior Congress leader, however, fiercely defended the party president's stand on GST. He said, "Of course Dr Singh kick-started work on GST but the NDA government in a rush to launch the landmark legislation messed up. The implementation of GST was premature and faulty. Dr Singh himself has criticised the flaws in the current system. So the award is not an endorsement of the government. The award is for the GST council which has finance ministers and chief ministers who have worked together."
This is the second year of the change maker of the year award. This time, the team behind the #MeToo movement, petitioners in the Article 377 case, GST council and Reliance Jio were among the final nominees. In fact, the GST Council and the petitioner in the Article 377 case were joint winners of the change maker of the year title.