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Narendra Modi's 'tryst with GST' or Nehru's 'tryst with destiny', which is greater? What a faltu question!

When Parliament met on the midnight of 30 June to roll out GST, the Congress and a few other Opposition parties boycotted the ceremony calling it a "tamasha" engineered to elevate the "tryst with GST" moment to the level of the indelible "tryst with destiny" of 1947. Or to self-propel Prime Minister Narendra Modi into an orbit synchronous with Jawaharlal Nehru.

Conventional wisdom tells us that though GST is the "biggest tax reform since independence", it is not quite independence itself. No wonder then that Narendra Modi came under severe attack for daring to equate the two and, in the process, for trying to appropriate credit for ushering in GST.

While everybody has panned Modi for being a limelight-hogger, very few thought it necessary to question conventional wisdom itself. John Kenneth Galbraith had said this about conventional wisdom in his book "The affluent Society": "The enemy of conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events. As I have noted, conventional wisdom accommodates itself not to the world that it is meant to interpret, but to the audience's view of the world."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech ahead of the GST rollout on Friday night. PIB

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech ahead of the GST rollout on Friday night. PIB

Galbraith known as a friend of India served as US Ambassador spanning both the heyday and the worst phase of Jawaharlal Nehru. He was witness to fall of Nehru from the pedestal after the debacle of the 1962 India-China war. Though his description of conventional wisdom and its follies are not even remotely related to Nehru's rise and fall, it aptly summarises the dilemma of Nehru's filial and political legatees.

Take for instance Nehru's famous "tryst with destiny speech". It's out of the ordinary not only for the style of delivery but also for its content. But it would be next to impossible to convince the Congress leadership, particularly the Nehru-Gandhi family that Modi's speech on GST was equally significant in its content. Predictably its style of delivery was different. Modi spoke in Hindi and quoted Sanskrit verses from religious scriptures to drive home his point.

In sharp contrast to Nehru's "tryst with destiny speech" in which he referred only to Mahatma Gandhi and skirted any mention of stalwarts of his time, Modi showered praise on the entire political leadership, including the Opposition, for the economic integration of India. With President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda on the podium, it was clear that the government had done its bit to make it a truly bipartisan event.

There is unique consistency in the Congress leadership trying to deprecate the Modi government on patently bipartisan issues like GST, demonetisation and surgical strikes. On the GST issue, perhaps the Congress leadership genuinely feared that the mid-night session was intended to eclipse Nehru's speech. This just highlights the Congress leadership's inability to come to terms with the fast changing political realities.

In his role as the chief minister of Gujarat earlier and as the prime minister of the country now, Modi has been consistently challenging the well-entrenched notion of conventional wisdom. He has been setting agendas which respond to the changing realities of the country. The move to implement the GST is clearly aimed at steering the country away from " chalta hai" (business as usual approach) and force the business community into tax-compliance. If one looks at the series of steps beginning from the scheme to declare black money, demonetisation, passing laws to check ill-gotten wealth and GST, there is a clear pattern.

A day after his speech in Parliament, Modi addressed a large gathering of chartered accountants and gave them a subtle warning that they should refrain from encouraging tax evasion. The implicit message to the community of chartered accountants was that they could be next on the firing line in the fight against black money.

Much of what Modi has been doing clearly defies the established notion of pragmatic politics. Yet in people's perception, Modi is seen as a doer who irrespective of consequences has been trying to set the country on the right course.

The prime minister refuses to cling to dogmas, whether ideological or political and comes out with a innovations that promise change. The Congress, on the other hand, seems quite bereft of new ideas and is desperately holding on to the Nehruvian past and moorings which are archaic and rendered irrelevant in today's time. They seem to have been completely overtaken by the march of events that are shaping the New India. Except for a few leaders like Nitish Kumar in the Opposition, the Congress-Left combine has been maintaining an ostrich-like approach to unfolding politics.

Galbraith's words on conventional wisdom seem like a forecast on India's politics. He writes: "The conventional wisdom dies but does not surrender. Society with intransigent cruelty may transfer its exponents from category of wise man to that of old foggy or even stuffed shirt".

Nehru's "tryst with destiny" speech was as much a defining moment for India's history as Modi's GST speech on June 30. There is no parameter to measure exactly which was bigger or smaller, just that both were stellar events in India's history at that point in time. Trying to compare the two and complain bitterly is to argue on who is greater between Gavaskar and Tendulkar, rather than enjoy watching both knowing they were both great in their time.

The Congress party's obdurate refusal to acknowledge the to march of time and events may lead it to complete political obsolescence. And that is not a good thing for India's politics.

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2017 15:05 PM

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