What made Rahul Gandhi call GST - Gabbar Singh Tax

Modi government's messy implementation of the 'tax reform' has wreaked havoc on the informal sector and the SMEs.

 |  6-minute read |   24-10-2017
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In 2015, it was "suit boot ki sarkar". In 2016, it was "fair and lovely scheme". In 2017, it's "Gabbar Singh Tax". There's method in the fun catchphrases that the Congress vice-president and the face of its electoral politics - Rahul Gandhi - comes up with annually. And #GabbarSinghTax is breaking the internet, to say the least.

On October 23, Rahul Gandhi rattled the Narendra Modi government, when he said during a rally in the election-bound Gujarat that GST is "Gabbar Singh Tax". His comparison of the Goods and Services Tax, which the Modi government had tried presenting as the "good and simple tax", with the famous dacoit and Bollywood villain from the film Sholay, was received with thunderous applause as it trended all day.

It must be noted that Gandhi's comment came in the wake of the controversy over the Tamil film Mersal starring Vijay, from which the BJP wanted a scene deleted because it was critical of GST. Earlier, Rahul had tweeted in favour of the film and had said that the government must stay away from interfering with Tamil pride.

Given the BJP's overreaction to a mere film, and raiding the property of another actor, Vishal, who spoke out in favour of Mersal, many saw the comical parallels between the BJP government going to extreme lengths trying to silence its critics of GST and Gabbar Singh, the arch villain of Hindi film industry. Some in the Congress went to the extent of saying that the BJP government has botched up what could have been a "historic tax reform" with its terrible execution and inadequate preparation for the same.

There's bitter truth in what the Congress supporters and members are claiming. The GST, though rolled out in a huge midnight bash that compared it to India's Independence Day eve, was initially hailed as the "transformational tax" that would revolutionise India's revenue collection and simplify compliance. Instead, it became a "tax nightmare", as many have observed. The GST alienated small traders and businesses, making many shut down because of losses and compliance burden. It shifted the compliance to a brand new and complicated indirect tax regime, with too many slabs and subcategories, to the unprepared individual, leading to a compliance disaster.

In fact, PM Modi tried distributing the burden of the GST rollout by "sharing credit" with the Congress, which too backfired. The disastrous impact of the GST was expected by many experts and was predicted by the Congress when it boycotted the midnight launch. It had tweeted then, warning PM Modi, that India was unprepared and his government was being hasty.

Even revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia has been forced to accept that the "GST needs rejig" to ease the burden on small businesses. But this has come four months too late, after many have shut shops and losses to the tune of several thousands of crores have been accrued.

The use of the Gabbar Singh metaphor by Rahul Gandhi is therefore quite apt, as it's catchy. It takes an arch Bollywood villain and makes everything that he stands for in Indian imagination - evil, fearsome, irrational malignity, draconian - also describe what only four months back the BJP government was presenting as its big, bold reform.

It must also be noted that the Election Commission delayed the announcement of the dates for Gujarat Assembly polls for much longer, letting PM Modi make grand announcements and inaugurate overbridges and ferry services in the state. Rahul Gandhi had also deployed sarcasm to convey what that meant:

As has been observed by many commentators now, Rahul Gandhi's barbs have become sharper and more effective - both online and offline - at a time when there's the hint of anti-incumbency in the air. It seems the Narendra Modi wave is waning, and the Congress VP, who will be reportedly elevated as the party president by the end of this month, is making the most of his oppositional space.

For long, Gandhi was ridiculed as a "reluctant" politician, who was no match for the 24X7 leader in Modi. If the sweep and sway of #GabbarSinghTax is anything to go by, that might no longer be the case.

Also read: Standing for national anthem in cinema hall: Why Supreme Court wants government to take a stand

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