The Modi government (or is it the GST Council?) has appointed the nation’s brand ambassador at large, Amitabh Bachchan, as the GST brand ambassador as well after having tried the ace shuttler PV Sindhu for a while.
One wonders why Sindhu was appointed in the first place. The TV ads featuring her show her muttering feebly something about adopting the Good and Services Tax. Amitabh with his baritone can definitely be counted upon to do a lot better in so far as decibel levels are concerned.
The moot question is whether the choice of a celebrity is appropriate for such a seminal if not esoteric idea that is slated to transform the business practices and mores of the country like nothing else has.
Celebrity advertising is not unique to a star-struck nation like ours. In fact, it is commonplace everywhere. It is eminently suitable for wooing consumers both actual and wannabe of products and services that belong to the impulsive purchase genre.
GST is neither a product nor a service. Rather it is an impost. An impost to be sure requires social messaging like payment of income tax being necessary to buy civilisation - airports, roads, hospitals, etc - as the English judge Holmes put it picturesquely and which the CBDT has adopted with alacrity.
Income tax requires a bit of cajoling because it is a direct tax applicable only to income beyond the prescribed threshold. Tax evaders cleverly contrive their tax affairs in such a way that when accosted by the taxman they can blithely show that income tax is not applicable to them.
GST being an indirect tax is a different kettle of fish. It is an impost in the true sense. Unlike income tax, it is sweeping in its application though certain products and services have been exempted for the time being. It targets those in the supply chain starting from the manufacturer to the retailer, each of whom has to pay tax on what he brings to the table i.e. the value addition made by him.
The final consumer is not required to comply with the law like applying for registration, filing returns, maintaining books and depositing the tax with the treasury. Her role is limited - payment of the invoice price that would include the GST paid down the line by everybody in the supply chain. She has no choice in the matter even though she can choose the supplier of her choice.
Since GST targets the business and professional class, it would be so much better if someone belonging to this class were to pontificate on its benefits and need for compliance. A Mukesh Ambani or Narayana Murthy if you like would have filled the bill better. They would carry greater conviction.
Ambani is perceived as the one who has continued with the nation-building activities of his late father who to be sure in his lifetime was often mired in controversies. Murthy has earned his spurs as a compassionate capitalist. There could be others.
The point is GST is a serious, all-pervasive issue affecting trade. It should be marketed, if at all, by a trader or a professional in order to sound credible and carry conviction.
A mother may be moved by Amitabh’s advice on polio vaccination but a wily trader would empathise only with and listen to another wily trader. Of course at the end of the day the success of GST is going to be determined by the robustness of its much-vaunted self-policing mechanism and the agility of its computer system to flag the black sheep.
In the event, who the brand ambassador is, is hardly an issue but now that the government has been persisting with brand ambassadors, it must change tack and rope in a Mukesh Ambani.