The Narendra Modi government celebrated the launch of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) at the midnight hour in the Parliament hall with the typical razzmatazz associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party. That the Prime Minister has a penchant for spectacular showmanship is no secret. The forced-into- superannuation veteran Lal Krishna Advani had once made the sardonic observation that Modi was essentially a savvy "event management" expert. To Modi's credit, such damning admonishments don't deter him from pursuing his single-minded focus on perpetuating his personality cult. It's like water off a duck's back. Electoral successes despite his flaky assurances have boosted Modi's belief that an aggressive self-promotional drive is a sure-shot silver bullet. So far it has worked.
In trying to make India monochromatic, homogenous to a single religious faith, the country will be deprived of its fundamental strength—plurality. It will hurt economic growth.
The GST drama, caustically referred to as a Grand Self-Promotional Tamasha, unfolded with a predictable brouhaha. TV anchors made breathless predictions on the revolutionary tax reform, while corporate cheerleaders competed vigorously in singing Modi's hosannas. An occasional interjection of subdued caution was thankfully permitted by a few accommodating TV channels. Whenever we could, all Congress spokespersons emphatically reiterated that the GST architecture was the party's original construct, and had Modi's BJP not contumaciously opposed it for seven years, it would have been another legislative triumph for the Grand Old Party. But it was apparent that the GST, like demonetisation preceding it, was going to be another glitter and gloss spectacle shepherded with Modi's flawless panache.
"One Nation, One Tax"— the GST tagline—has economic unification as its singular credo. About time too. India's byzantine tax structure can leave even the diehard financial wonk befuddled. GST was needed to increase transparency and obliterate the wrap-on long red-tape that escalated paperwork and encouraged tax litigation. Undoubtedly, GST is an effective panacea for our tax ills. One Nation, One Tax sounds fairly patriotic too. Ironically enough, however, India has serious social fissures afflicting it as religious stratification has overwhelmed its secular society. Currently, it is bedeviled by a disturbing fragility that is manifesting itself in sporadic instances of communal stress.
The fault lines of a fragmented society are easily exploited by nefarious elements. West Bengal is a case study in point. BJP leaders spread fake photos and distorted videos to add fuel to blistering fires, already uncontrollable. Human lives lost, like in the horrendous riots of Muzaffarnagar, following morphed images, are only treated as collateral liabilities in the larger pursuit of electoral advantage. Social media has assumed monstrous proportions, its twisted viral content like a tornado destroying everything in its path.
The gradual dismemberment of historical facts to suit the Hindu Rashtra narrative of the RSS will make our young impressionable schoolchildren grow up with a foggy understanding of our societal origins and cultural roots and breed visceral prejudices. These are being imposed stealthily with immaculate precision in a gargantuan exercise, particularly in government-aided schools. Religion is centre-stage in this ambitious project. Post-truth and fake news are the new normal.
What we are thus seeing is... the "skyboxification" of Indian society—the dominant majority community perched in premium enclosures condescendingly overlooking their less-fortunate brethren in squalid ghettos.
RSS leaders keep issuing intermittent diktats on the appropriate Hindu life: wear saris, eat vegetarian and don't discuss politics or cricket during meals. In an evolving modern democratic society that encourages independent choices and free-wheeling exchanges, such anachronistic prescriptions sound absurd. Yet, there are many who would believe in this sage advice. When the RSS starts extolling the virtues of making "fair and tall Aryan babies", courtesy some Ayurvedic formulations, you know that we are in cuckoo land. Cow vigilante groups, Love Jihad, Anti-Romeo squads, Ghar Wapsi and beef bans have encouraged the rise of the communal mercury. It does not portend well.
The inherent insecurity caused by religious differences is evident when Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath states that the spectacular Taj Mahal (the wondrous monument that drives India's tourism screenplay) at Agra is not representative of "Indian culture". The splendid marble structure on the banks of the Yamuna River encapsulates a timeless love-story between Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. But it is conspicuously absent from the cultural heritage plan outlined in the state budget. Nobody seems to care.
Modi apparently loves America, evident in his enthusiastic embraces for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. So, he should know that diversity makes good business sense. America is a massive melting pot where people of different ethnicities and nationalities chase the American dream and indeed form the bedrock of the nation's global economic dominance. In trying to make India monochromatic, homogenous to a single religious faith, the country will be deprived of its fundamental strength—plurality. It will hurt economic growth. The recent strictures on cow slaughter (since immobilised by the Supreme Court), causing severe losses to the beef export and leather industry, establishes this.
What we are thus seeing is what philosopher Michael J. Sandel would call the "skyboxification" of Indian society—the dominant majority community perched in premium enclosures condescendingly overlooking their less-fortunate brethren in squalid ghettos. Economic inequality is deleterious, but social dissimilitude can be fatal. "One Nation, One Tax" may be a good thing, but "One Nation, One Society" would be infinitely better.