Many in the country believed that in May 2014 India for the first time got a true non-Congress government at the Centre. To an extent this belief is true as several of the morphological non-Congress government came to power at the Centre and several times in the history of Independent India.
But in most cases the leadership’s moorings were of the Congress, as the Prime Ministers like Morarji Desai, VP Singh, IK Gujaral, Chandrashekher had their political training took place in the Grand Old party and once they came to power behaved like any other previous Congress governments. They could never come out of the famous Congress culture and continued with what had been happening already.
Even BJP Stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government had the imprint of the Congress culture, which continued with institutions and process as they were in the previous governments led by Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Sashtri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Between 1998 and 2004, the Vajpayee government never thought of changing the course of government and bring in changes, which could take the country to a paradigm shift.
Nationalism has always been a blurred concept in the body politic of India and that gave citizens many woes on account of national character and thinking. There was a continuation of parochial views so far as domestic issues were concerned and in case of external issues, the country’s leadership was always driven by internationalism, which cost India very dear on the both front.
In this background, the view of the people is that with BJP’s Narendra Modi at helm with a majority of his own party the country has got a culturally true non-Congress government holds a lot of water.
As soon as this government came to power, it ensured that there will be no difference between Indians and all decisions affecting India externally will only be driven by keeping India first. India’s policies vis-a-vis immediate neighbourhood – be it Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh,
Afghanistan or Srilanks - prove the point. “We emerged as the sole power in the Indian subcontinent as smaller neighbours have no choice but to be with India,” said a strategic expert, adding that the country like Pakistan “if does not listen to us, we have powers to inflict injury to that country and the rest rally around us”.
Moreover, the concept of “India first” has given Modi enough elbow room to bring in a sea of metamorphic changes in the structure and processes of the government and marched on to the path of “One India One Expenditure”, “One India One Budget”, One India One Indirect tax” and work is being done on war footing to bring in system of “One India One Election”, as the Election Commission is preparing to hold it soon.
Introduction of GST: “One India One market”:
The first case in point is the Goods & Services Tax (GST), which has recently been passed by the Parliament and the President has already given his assent to it. Many critics say that it was not Modi’s concept, as it was aggressively pursued by the previous Congress government led by Manmohan Singh. But to bring the point in home is that the move did not see the light of the day during their tenure despite being in the government for long 10 years. Modi did it within two years of his tenure. Everyone knew about the advantages of GST.
Now from April 2017, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has pledged to roll out GST, it will bring in several benefits to the people of this country by making “One India One market”. They include:
- Life gets simpler
GST will replace 17 indirect tax levies and compliance costs will fall
- Revenue will get a boost
Evasion set to drop - Input tax credit will encourage suppliers to pay taxes - States and Centre will have dual oversight - The number of tax-exempt goods will decline
- A common market
It's currently fragmented along state lines, pushing costs up 20-30%
- Logistics, inventory costs will fall
Checks at state borders slow movement of trucks. In India, they travel 280 km a day compared with 800 km in the US
- Investment boost
For many capital goods, input tax credit is not available. Full input tax credit under GST will mean a 12-14% drop in the cost of capital goods. Expected: A 6% rise in capital goods investment, 2% overall.
Scrapping separate rail Budget: “One India One Budget”
Next is the merger of rail budget with that of general budget. Interestingly the governments of independent India carried on with a 92 year-old colonial practice of presenting separate rail budget. But from next year on India will witness Railway budget merged into Union budget.
This move is being lauded for it will be beneficial for the economy at large and there will be positive influence on the development in railways.
During the British reign, having a separate Railway budget made sense because a larger part of the country’s GDP depended on railway revenue. The tradition of having the budgets separately continued when India gained freedom even though the revenue from railway continued to go lower than most of the organizations in the public and private sector.
- The scores:During the British rule Railways took up to 85 per cent of the yearly budget while now it has gone down to about 15 per cent. Having separate railway budget stopped making sense long ago but the old tradition was not done away with. Scrapping the old for the renewed and better is always a positive change to look upon.
- Better policies:Now that the Railway budget will be introduced along with the union budget, there will be less wastage of time when a new policy is to be initiated and implemented. Keeping them separate resulted in a lot of drawbacks and hindrances that had to be faced by the railway ministry before it could decide upon a solution.
- Party politics:Minority parties fighting to meet their intentions and ministers of certain states arguing new railways and trains for their region has always been known to result in an everlasting brawl. There will be less of political pressure on the Railway budget and the centre will have the ultimate hold of the decision making.
- Goodbye to annual dividend:When Rail budget had to be introduced separately, the railways needed to pay an annual dividend to render its budgetary support to the government. The railways will be free of this now and the same fund could now be used in better ways for development the conditions of Indian railways.
- The huge loss:Our railways are running on loss. There are lesser funds for development plans and most of them are wasted in wrongful manner when there emerges a demand from the regional MLA who promised new trains and stoppages for their location during the time of election. When it goes into the hands of finance ministry, it would mean and absolute end to this and a more commercialized distribution of resources.
Simplifying System of managing public wealth: “One India only Two Types of Expenditure
The Plan and Non-Plan distinction in the budget is going to be removed from next fiscal 2017-18 for good reasons. This has been done make the budget process to reflect the true classification of functional expenditure. This means that now there would only be “revenue expenditure (non-asset creation)” and “capital expenditure (asset creation).According to an expert committee of the government this will facilitate linking expenditure to outcomes and better public expenditure management.
Simultaneous Election: (One Nation One Election)
The topic of simultaneous polls made headlines this year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch for it at a BJP meeting in March. But what wasn’t reported is that the PMO had directly reached out to the EC on the feasibility of conducting Lok Sabha and state assembly elections together, less than a year after Modi was elected to power in May 2014.
Interaction between the PMO and EC is rare and unusual, but not improper; a former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is reported to have said in the media. The EC’s communication with the government on electoral matters is normally limited to the law and home ministries.
A note dated January 28, 2015, signed by then CEC H S Brahma, states, “Shri Nripendra Misra, Pr (Principal) Secretary to PM, informed me that there is a strong feeling of having simultaneous elections for both Parliament and the state assemblies. He mentioned that the repetitive state elections of all the 36 states and UTs cause lots of disruption, both in terms of implementation of various schemes as well as socio-economic scenario. There are states, for example erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, where between 2008-2013 there were 60 bye-elections, held on flimsy grounds, where same candidate resigns and is re-elected after few months. This causes loss of public confidence besides tremendous financial cost to the state. After all, elections cost money.”
It then goes on to say that the EC should prepare a note in three weeks to debate the matter internally as well as with all political parties and experts. This background paper was eventually shared with the parliamentary standing committee on law and justice, which, in its final report submitted in December 2015, recommended simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
Brahma, who retired as CEC on April 19, 2015, confirmed his interaction with the PMO. “I remember in 2015, I had received a telephone call from the PMO saying that we should prepare some sort of a backgrounder on whether it can be done or not. As you know, the EC studied it and shared its report with the government. I am sure the government will take a decision accordingly,” he is reported to have said in the media.
Simultaneous election is a BJP pet project which was flagged by its veteran leader LK Advani in 2011. It also found mention in the party’s manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
For starters, the government will have to amend the Constitution to either curtail or extend the term of some of the state assemblies to enable the EC to draw up a common poll schedule.
Secondly, such an exercise will require large-scale purchase of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines. According to the Commission, it would need Rs 9,284.15 crore to procure the additional EVMs and VVPATs. Moreover, the machines will have to be replaced every 15 years, which would again entail more expenditure.
The concept of simultaneous polls isn’t new to the country. The first elections to the Lok Sabha and all state assemblies were held together in 1951-52. This practice continued in the three subsequent general elections held in 1957, 1962 and 1967. But with the premature dissolution of some state assemblies in 1968 and 1969, this cycle was disrupted.