NEW DELHI: The hour stuck as appointed for India’s tryst with the “Good and Simple Tax”, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it in his speech some minutes before midnight. Then he gave over the podium to President Pranab Mukherjee, who took everyone through a brief, 10-minute recap of the GST’s 14-year journey to becoming reality. Then a gong struck, a button was pressed, and India moved into a new tax regime.
The grandness of the moment rescued the event, which was a bit of a damp squib otherwise, with little snapshots enlivening it. Amitabh Bachchan did not turn up. But Ratan Tata was there, sitting next to Asim Dasgupta, Marxist and former West Bengal finance minister, chatting like old friends. His party, the CPI(M) was boycotting with the rest of the Left, but Dasgupta was the first chairman of the GST council, and came in that capacity.
The Congress was boycotting too, of course, as was Trinamool, BSP etc, Manmohan Singh was missing from the dais, where another former PM, H D Deve Gowda, had to do duty, showcasing the bipartisan nature of this policy breakthrough, reflected in the tone of the speeches.
The Congress, though, marked its presence not only through P J Kurien, who was there in his capacity as deputy speaker, Rajya Sabha, but in the august presence of the President himself. Mukherjee injected a bit of gentle, allusive humour into the proceedings by recalling his own stint as finance minister. He was the one helming the GST efforts then, and he spoke of the “vivid memory” of the 16 meetings he had held with chief ministers and the rest. Yes, he mentioned “Gujarat” in the list and, in a general way, the “contentious issues”.
The references were not lost on anyone, even though he couched it in non-partisan, inclusive tones, recalling everyone’s “constructive approach”. The PM too managed to slip in references to the “less developed states of the east” — many of them non-BJP states — in a speech generally fraternal and conciliatory in tone. For the rest, it was a roster call of minor absences and presences. The NCP broke ranks and came. SP leader Ram Gopal Verma too was there, again breaking ranks, but had to be escorted out as he was feeling unwell.