New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

15 August, 2017

Rise of the nationalists in India

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

It was on this day, the 15th of August, 70 years ago that the British, unable to get the main political forces of their largest colony to come to an agreement, brought forth upon the subcontinent two states – Pakistan, conceived on the basis that the Muslims constitute a separate nation, and India, committed to the idea of common nationality of people of all faiths.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who had forcefully articulated the Pakistan demand, rejected arguments in favour of national unity based on the subcontinent’s common history. History may be the same but our heroes are different, he said.

What proved decisive in the end was not the soundness of the arguments of either side but the sick hurry of all concerned.

Britain, weakened by the war, was in a hurry to quit as it was in no position to hold on to the colony after the loyalty of the military became suspect. Soldiers who fell into the hands of the Japanese had joined Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army and naval personnel in Mumbai had mutinied after the war.

Jinnah, who was fighting a disease, was in a hurry as he feared the British might pull out without an agreement, leaving the Muslims at the mercy of the Hindu majority.

“Over my dead body,” Gandhi said when Britain announced the Partition plan but his lieutenants accepted it even as they continued to reject the two-nation theory. Some theorists have postulated that Jawaharlal Nehru and other senior Congressmen agreed to Partition as they were in a hurry to come to power.

But there were possibly other considerations too. If the British pulled out without waiting for an agreement, as Jinnah feared they would, given the prevailing highly charged communal atmosphere, a civil war was certain. The Congress, wedded to non-violence, was not equipped to face it.

The winners of the civil war would have been the extreme Right or the extreme Left. On the Right was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose chief had been advising the flock not to fight the British but conserve their energies to take on the “real enemies”, the Muslims and the Christians. On the Left were Communists who thought time was ripe for revolution.

While India and Pakistan inherited armies and bureaucracies with the same colonial traditions they moved in different directions. Jinnah’s death and Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination within five years of Pakistan’s birth paved the way for the emergence of the army and religious forces as political players.

Although Hindu fanatics eliminated Gandhi within six months of Independence, India did not slip into the hands of the army or religious forces, thanks to Nehru’s 17-year stewardship during which the country was set on the path of secular democracy.

In the early general elections, three parties subscribing to the Hindutva ideology challenged the Congress – the Hindu Mahasabha, the Jana Sangh and the Ram Rajya Parishad, the last two founded at the instance of the RSS. They hoped to benefit from the communal feelings generated by the riots of the Partition period but Nehru faced them frontally and beat them off.

It was only after the declining Congress, under his successors, went soft on communalism that the Hindutva forces were able to make headway. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was accused of appeasing Muslims in the Shah Bano matter, sought to overcome it by appeasing Hindu communalists. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao let RSS cadres pull down the centuries-old Babri Mosque to build a Rama temple.

The Jana Sangh was a part of the Janata Party cobbled together by freedom-fighter Jayaprakash Narayan to take on Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime. When Socialists raised the issue of RSS membership, the Sangh pulled out and started functioning under the name of Bharatiya Janata Party.

Since Narendra Modi led the BJP to victory in the 2014 elections, the RSS has been pursuing its concept of Hindu Rashtra (nation), which liberal opinion views as a kind of Hindu Pakistan, through a two-pronged strategy. While RSS affiliates indulge in violence targeted at Muslims and Dalits, hard-core leaders in the Central and state administrations have been pushing the Hindutva ideal in the guise of promoting nationalism.

Modi lacks a two-thirds majority in the two houses of Parliament, which is needed to amend the Constitution and declare India a Hindu Rashtra. But, then, much can be done without going through that formality. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 15, 2017.

08 August, 2017

A story of official callousness

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The long-running struggle by poor villagers displaced by the multipurpose Narmada Valley project has entered a new phase with the arrest of renowned social activist Medha Patkar and a few others who have staked their lives to pressure the callous administration to fulfil the promise to rehabilitate them.

The project, under which 30 major dams, 135 medium ones and 3,000 small ones, were to be constructed on the 1312-kilometre-long river Narmada, was one of the largest of its kind. It was promoted as one that will irrigate two million hectares of farm land and provide drinking water to 30 million people, besides generating electricity to meet the needs of agriculture and industry.

The biggest of the dams, Sardar Sarovar, was to be in Gujarat, which was the project’s main beneficiary. Successive governments of that state exerted considerable pressure on the Centre for its implementation, arguing it was necessary to irrigate the parched lands of Kutch and Saurashtra regions.

The promoters of the project hid the fact that it would inundate 37,000 hectares of forest and agricultural land in Madhya Pradesh and deprive hundreds of thousands of people, most of them tribes living in the forests, of their homes and livelihood.

Medha Patkar visited the project area in MP in 1985 to gather material as a research scholar. Moved by the plight of the people threatened by the project, she gave up her PhD ambition and committed herself to their cause.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) which she founded has been spearheading the campaign for their rehabilitation since then.

During the last three decades the NBA mounted many mass agitations, and Medha Patkar undertook two indefinite fasts, one of which lasted 22 days, and fought a long court battle. They could not stop the project but they chalked up many victories not only for themselves but also for people elsewhere in the world who were under the shadow of mega dams.

Acting on Medha Patkar’s petition, the Supreme Court ordered that the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam must be raised in stages and that work on a new stage should be taken up only after rehabilitation of those affected by the previous stage was completed. It is another matter that the authorities circumvented this restriction by submitting false reports stating that the rehabilitation work had been completed.

In 1985 the World Bank agreed to provide $450 million towards the Narmada project’s originally estimated cost of $6 billion. After the NBA drew attention to the enormous social and human costs involved, it set up an independent committee, headed by former UN Development Programme chief Bradford Morse to review the project.

The committee said the project was flawed, resettlement of the affected people was not possible under the prevailing conditions and environmental impacts had not been adequately addressed.

Following this, the World Bank withdrew its offer of funds.

The NBA’s heroic resistance inspired groups in several countries to take a fresh look at big dam projects. This prompted the World Bank and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to set up the World Commission on Dams with a mandate to draw up comprehensive guidelines on dam building. Medha Patkar was a member of the committee.

Many of the fears voiced by critics when the mammoth project was taken up have proved to be true. The water flowing into Gujarat is used mostly in the southern regions, which already had the benefit of irrigation, and very little was reaching Saurashtra and Kutch.

Available data suggests that the benefits accruing from the project are not commensurate with the huge investment.

Recently the Centre permitted Gujarat to close the gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam. This will raise the water level in Madhya Pradesh and submerge the homes of an estimated 40,000 families in four districts of the state. The current agitation is to press for their rehabilitation.

Instead of approaching the issue from a humanitarian point of view, the state government let loose a reign of terror on the protestors. The police attacked and arrested school children who had come from different parts of the country to show their solidarity with the affected villagers.

Medha Patkar and her associates had decided to hold a rally at Rajghat where there was a Gandhi statue and a memorial to the Father of the Nation before beginning their indefinite fast on July 27. The police removed the statue and the memorial the previous night.

The Madhya Pradesh government’s representatives have met Medha Patkar in an effort to persuade her to end the fast. But they have not made any meaningful proposal regarding the rehabilitation of the affected villagers.

The state must realise that it is playing with the lives of people.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah. August 8, 2017

01 August, 2017

Gaining power by other means

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought India’s second largest state, Bihar, under his belt last week, 20 months after its voters had decisively rejected his Bharatiya Janata Party in the Assembly elections.

The Constitution provides for change of government through elections. But change of government can also result from realignment of parties in the legislature.

In its heyday, the Congress party had seized power in states on some occasions by engineering defections from other parties. Now Modi does it.

Bihar is the fourth state where the BJP seized power after losing the elections. The others are Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Goa, all comparatively small states.

In Arunachal Pradesh a majority of the Congress legislators broke away and joined first a regional party and then the BJP, making it the ruling party. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who belongs to this state, is credited with masterminding the palace coup.

Though the Congress lost its majority in the Manipur Assembly in this year’s elections, it remained the largest party. But the BJP, which had fewer seats than the Congress, seized power by enlisting the support of the small regional parties. It justified the manoeuvre by pointing out that the electoral verdict was against the Congress, which was in power.

It conveniently overlooked this logic in Goa when it lost its majority in the Goa Assembly. Here, again, the Congress was the largest party but the BJP won the support of regional parties and seized power.

Political manipulations are not the only stock in trade of the BJP which has set its mind on acquiring the dominant position the Congress once held as the party that had spearheaded the freedom struggle.

Soon after Modi took office, government agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is entitled to look into corruption charges against public servants, the Enforcement Directorate, which has the power to investigate money laundering cases, and the Income Tax department, whose mandate is wide enough to track black money transactions, initiated investigations targeted at opposition leaders.

The agencies have not been able to pin any major crime on anyone yet, but reports indicate that some investigations are in an advanced stage. They include allegedly fraudulent transfer of the shares of the National Herald by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son and party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, and alleged money laundering by Karti Chidambaram, son of former Union Minister P Chidambaram.

It was a case registered by the CBI against Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav for allegedly accepting bribes for some deals of the time when his father and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad was the Railway Minister that presented Bihar’s Janata Dal (United) Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with the opportunity to break the alliance with the RJD and form a government with the BJP as the partner.

All the indicted leaders have denied the charges and claimed they are victims of political vendetta. Tejaswi Yadav has said he was a 14-year-old kid when he allegedly took bribes.

Nitish Kumar was heading a JD(U)-BJP government when the BJP chose Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. He broke up the coalition citing the communal carnage in Gujarat under Modi’s watch. He justifies his return to the BJP camp saying secularism cannot be a cover for corruption.

It is disingenuous to project the choice before India as one between corruption and communalism, which are not mutually exclusive anyway. Many BJP chief ministers have attracted charges of corruption. Modi himself is no paragon. He parted with a costly suit presented by a diamond merchant only after he was widely criticised for donning it. Several BJP leaders are among those from whom large sums of unaccounted money have been seized.

One of the states now on the BJP radar is Tamil Nadu where two Dravidian parties have alternated in power for four decades. Modi espies an opportunity in the vacuum created there by the death of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa last December. Her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has split into two. Both factions are vulnerable to pressure from the investigative agencies and both have shown readiness to align with the BJP. Modi is trying to unite them before they align with his party.

The next parliamentary elections are due in 2019. As the poll approaches the investigating agencies may come up with more cases against opposition leaders. There are reports that the BJP is trying to revive the long-dead Bofors scandal of Rajiv Gandhi’s time to embarrass the Congress.

The cases may eventually fail but they can be of use to the BJP at election time. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 1, 2017.

25 July, 2017

Doublespeak on cow protection

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke up against cow vigilantism last week for the third time in a month. On all three occasions he said too little and failed to carry conviction.

Modi spoke on the subject for the first time in his home state of Gujarat towards the end of June, ten months after pro-government gangs killed at least a score of people, mostly Muslims and Dalits, in different parts of the country alleging cow slaughter or beef eating.

He said, “Killing people in the name of gau bhakti (cow worship) is not acceptable. No person has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country.”

That statement came after the violent phase of cow vigilantism had invited strong criticism from within the country and outside.

He returned to the theme twice subsequently.

In the last speech on the subject, he said, “Some anti-social elements have incited violence in the name of cow protection. Those engaged in disturbing the harmony in the country are trying to take advantage of the situation.”

He went on to point out that lynchings were tarnishing India’s image. He also claimed some people were settling personal scores in the name of cow protection.

This response came immediately after a spate of “Not in My Name” protests across the country against the lynchings.

Interestingly, there was no word of condemnation of violence in the Prime Minister’s statements. He merely distanced himself from the violent incidents by declaring they were “unacceptable”. He sought to distance his party and its affiliates also from them by insinuating that the violence was the work of some people who had scores to settle. To him, the issue was not the killings but the bad name they brought to the country and to his government.

Simultaneously, Modi sought to reinforce the Hindutva position on the cow. In a series of tweets in Hindi, he said, “People see cow as a mother. Their sentiments are attached to it. We have to see that there are laws to protect cows and breaching them is not an option.”

In Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, standing in for Home Minister Rajnath Singh, replied to Opposition criticism of the violence by cow vigilantes along the same lines as the Prime Minister.

In a bid to turn the tables on the Opposition, Jaitley, who is a reputed lawyer, pointed out that cow slaughter ban was not Modi’s idea. It was written into the Constitution by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar when the BJP was not in the picture.

He was alluding to the mention of ban on cow slaughter in the Constitution as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. He glossed over the fact that Nehru and Ambedkar had reluctantly agreed to the inclusion of the relevant article in the legally non-enforceable chapter as a compromise in democratic compliance with the wishes of several Congress members of the Constituent Assembly who wanted cow slaughter to be banned respecting Hindu religious sentiments.

The Constitution gives the states the power to ban slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle, not on religious grounds but in the interests of organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines. Invoking this provision, a majority of the states have already banned cow slaughter without disrupting social harmony.

Thus there is no situation warranting cow vigilantism in the country. The Hindutva elements have deliberately activated the issue with a view to targeting the Muslims and the Dalits. The beef vigilantes claimed to have caught generally turned out to be goat or buffalo meat.

The issue before the nation now is really not cow protection but the life and security of people engaged in occupations like cattle trade and skinning of dead animals. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee put it succinctly when she said gau rakshaks (cow protectors) have turned gau rakshasas (cow demons).

Even as Modi and Jaitley were trying to deflect attention from the core issue with specious arguments, Pravin Togadia, President of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, one of the largest affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, said in speeches in Uttar Pradesh that his organisation would raise, train and equip an army of gau rakshaks. This shows the VHP is preparing for more violent interventions.

The contrary messages emerging from the government and the VHP appear to be part of a well-thought-out strategy. The Indian Express quoted Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, as saying in an interview it was all based on doublespeak. “There is an occasional, pious public message to say the authorities disapprove of certain actions, but then there is the dog-whistle by which people are also being relayed the opposite of what the official message is,” he said. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 25, 2017. 

18 July, 2017

Confrontation on the Himalayas

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Memories of the border war of 1962 came alive briefly during the past month as armies of India and China faced each other at Doklam, at their trijunction with Bhutan, nestling at a height of 8,000 feet in the Himalayas.

The standoff has not ended but after some acerbic exchanges, mostly through the media, the two sides have toned down the rhetoric and voiced readiness to resolve the issue through talks. However, the talks may not come any time soon as China, which has settled its border disputes with all other neighbours, appears to be in no hurry to demarcate its borders with India and Bhutan.

The India-China border is about 4,000-kilometres long. Of this, only the 220-km Sikkim-Tibet segment is free from dispute. While rejecting the McMahon line that separated Tibet from India’s northeast as a British imposition, China had accepted the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 which defined the Sikkim-Tibet border.

In an agreement concluded in 1996 India and China committed themselves to peaceful resolution of the border dispute. So far there have been 18 rounds of talks, with little to show.

Bhutan, the world’s only remaining Buddhist kingdom, is a small country with an area of 38,394 square kilometres and a population of less than 800,000, which took to the path of democracy a decade ago.  While other nations seek to raise their gross national product, it seeks to boost gross national happiness.

Bhutan has an undemarcated 470km-long border with China’s Tibet region. Kuomintang China had claimed a part of Bhutan’s territory and Communist China chose to keep the claim alive. After more than 20 rounds of talks the border dispute remains unresolved.

When Britain ruled India, Bhutan and Sikkim were its protectorates. After gaining freedom India readjusted its ties with them.

Sikkim was made a state of India in 1975 at the instance of the Sikkim National Congress which came to power in the elections held the previous year.

Under an agreement with Bhutan in 1949 India virtually took over the role performed by the colonial regime and undertook to assist it in foreign relations. A friendship treaty signed in 2007 recast the relations on a new basis. In it the two countries pledged to cooperate closely on issues where their national interests are involved and not allow the use of their territories for activities harmful to each other’s national security.

While Bhutan has maintained close ties with India since the colonial period, it has avoided establishing diplomatic relations with China. After joining the United Nations in 1971 it established diplomatic relations with more than 50 countries but it has not allowed China and the four other permanent members of the Security Council to establish missions in its capital Thimpu.

It hurts Beijing’s pride that this tiny neighbour rebuffs its pleas for diplomatic relations. Also, along with India, it has kept out of China’s One Road, One Belt scheme.

Doklam, the scene of the stand-off, is a plateau which the People’s Liberation Army occupied as it swept through Tibet after the Revolution. In 2000 Thimpu belatedly pointed out that the place belongs to it.

The standoff is the result of the Indian army’s stepping in to challenge the building of a new road which will give China easy access to the miniscule Bhutan army’s base and – from New Delhi’s standpoint, more importantly – to the Siliguri Corridor, the chicken’s neck that connects India’s northeastern states with the mainland.

When Chinese troops poured down through the mountain passes in 1962, India had feared they would cut off the northeast, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had voiced his anguish on that score in a broadcast.

In the recent past India and China had made a series of moves leading to cooling of the ardour witnessed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s early meetings with President Xi Jinping. China is wary of India’s growing relations with the United States and India is wary of China’s hegemonic ambitions.

At one point the Chinese side reminded India of its painful 1962 experience. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said India of 2017 was not India of 1962. The remark invited a retort from Beijing that China of 2017 was not China of 1962.

After Chinese troops swooped down the hills in 1962, forcing Indian soldiers to retreat, Beijing had announced a quick unilateral withdrawal of forces. The pullout was dictated not so much by altruistic factors as by logistical considerations. The Himalayas are no place to fight a prolonged war but offer pressure points that can be activated in case of need. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 18, 2017.

11 July, 2017

Waltzing through the Middle East

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Narendra Modi, who has set a few globe-trotting records, last week became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. “We have waited 70 years for you,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he embraced him.

The Israeli authorities extended to Modi the kind of welcome that was given previously only to the Pope and the President of the United States, and the world media has since been trying to unravel the meaning of what one writer described as his “public love fest” with Netanyahu.

When the United Nations proposed carving the state of Israel out of Palestine in 1948, India had pleaded in vain for a two-state solution. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said Zionists had offered bribes to win India’s support and held out threats to his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who was the leader of the Indian delegation to the UN.

When the state of Israel became a reality India recognised it but refrained from establishing full-scale diplomatic relations with it in a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians. However, Israel was allowed to establish an honorary consulate in Mumbai to look after commercial and cultural matters.

During the 1962 border war with China, Nehru turned to Israel for small arms and it readily helped. Today India, the world’s largest importer of arms, buys about 40% of Israel’s arms exports.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the fountainhead of the Hindutva ideology which is the driving force behind Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, was initially an ardent admirer of Hitler and Mussolini. After World War II, impressed by the high-handed measures Israel took for survival in an extremely hostile environment, it switched its admiration from Fascism to Zionism.

Over the last four decades, relations with Israel have grown steadily, more rapidly under non-Congress governments than under those led by the Congress, which is more alive to the sensitivities of the Arab world and of India’s own Muslim minority.

When the Janata Party was in power and AB Vajpayee was the External Affairs Minister, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan visited India secretly. That government fell before it could take any meaningful step to boost bilateral relations.

In 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi government granted recognition to the state of Palestine and four years later the Narasimha Rao government raised diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level.

While improving relations with Israel, the Indian government reiterated its commitment to Palestine. It also extended continued support to the Palestinian cause in international forums. Indian leaders visiting Israel included the Palestinian Authority headquarters at Ramallah also in their itinerary.

A year ago India abstained on a UN Human Rights Council resolution critical of Israeli actions against Palestinians. Some observers have interpreted this and Modi’s failure to go to Ramallah as clear signs of a pro-Israeli shift in India’s position in tune with the RSS thinking.

International media quoted a Palestinian official as saying India’s relationship with Israel appeared to be developing at the cost of its moral, humanitarian and historic commitment to Palestine.

Indian officials, however, maintain that decoupling of Israel and Palestine does not make any material difference to India’s traditional policy. They point out that Modi had received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi in May. On that occasion he had reaffirmed India’s unwavering support to the Palestinian cause and expressed the hope “to see the realisation of a sovereign, independent, united and viable Palestine coexisting peacefully with Israel”.

Modi has waltzed through 49 countries so far. He has chosen his destinations with due regard for traditional ties as well as new realities. 

Hindutva’s ideological affinity apart, military and economic considerations are driving India and Israel closer together. Since Modi came to power, India has reportedly bought $662 million worth of arms from Israel. It has also signed several defence deals, including one for the purchase of a missile defence system costing $2 billion.

India, which is facing the prospects of acute water shortage, hopes to benefit from Israel’s farming and water technology innovations. One of the agreements signed during Modi’s visit envisages the setting up of a $40 million fund for joint research and development projects.

Israel appears to be looking to India for a political dividend in the form of greater respectability for itself. --Gulf Today, July 11, 2017.

04 July, 2017

Indian common market is born

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With the catchy slogan “One Nation, One Tax, One Market”, the Indian government ushered in a new national tax regime at a midnight ceremony last week.

Unlike demonetisation of high-value currency, undertaken eight months ago without adequate preparations, the tax reform was launched after long deliberations.

The new tax regime is essentially a continuation of the reforms initiated by Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s government a quarter-century ago. It will benefit foreign firms setting up facilities in the country by providing a uniform tax structure regardless of where they are located.

The first step towards introduction of a national goods and services tax (GST) scheme was taken by Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in 2000 when he set up a panel to design a suitable model. Strong opposition from state governments, which feared loss of revenue as well as limitations on their taxation powers, made the going tough.

Modi, who, as Chief Minister of Gujarat state, had stood against the Manmohan Singh government’s bid to introduce GST, changed his stand on becoming the Prime Minister and decided to push it as part of his economic reform package. Replying to Opposition taunts about the shift in his position, he said he had some misgivings about the scheme. As a Prime Minister who had been a Chief Minister he could address the states’ concerns on the issue, he added.

In 2015 the Modi government set April 1, 2016 for rolling out GST. The Constitution needed to be amended to introduce it. The ruling coalition could easily get the amending bill through the Lok Sabha, where it has a majority. It was not until August 2016 that it could enlist the support of the Congress which was necessary to push the bill through the Rajya Sabha.

The Centre still had to conduct tricky negotiations with the states to work out details of the new tax regime. It is entitled to credit for completing the process speedily and making GST a reality by July 1.

Conceived as a multi-stage, destination-based tax, GST is levied on every value addition. The final consumer, it is claimed, will bear only the GST charged by the last dealer in the supply chain.

Does that mean the consumer will pay less for goods and services? Or will he end up paying more? There is no simple, straight answer to the question.

Contradictory trends are already in evidence. Some items now cost more and some others less. The biggest automobile producer announced a three per cent cut in the prices of some models, supposedly to pass on GST benefits to the customers, but hiked the prices of some other models by Rs 100,000.

With an estimated population of 1.34 billion, India constitutes a big market. As the national economy is growing rapidly, the market bids fair to be even bigger. But the “one nation, one tax” bit is not quite true.

There are actually three GSTs – a Central GST, a State GST and an Integrated GST – levied by the Centre on inter-state supply of goods and services. Also, there is wide variation in the tax rates.

There is no levy on several items and bullion attracts a low three per cent tax. Four slabs, of five per cent, 12 per cent, 18 per cent and 28 per cent, have been fixed for other goods and services. There is also a cess to raise money to compensate the states for revenue loss.

No other country with a GST regime has so complex a tax structure and such high rates as India has opted for. The rate is six per cent in Malaysia, seven per cent in Singapore, seven and a half per cent in the US, 15 per cent in New Zealand, 17 per cent in China and 19 per cent in Germany. Brazil has two rates: seven per cent and 12 per cent.

Economic analysts have said that the GST scheme is full of imperfections. One of them is the compromise with the states which has resulted in the exclusion of petroleum products, liquor and real estate development from GST.

The coming weeks will show if the preparations made for the switch to the new tax regime were adequate or will bring needless suffering to the people, as happened with the demonetisation programme. It did not yield the anticipated benefits but caused immense hardship to the people, especially the poor. --Gulf Today, July 4, 2017.