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GST done, but can a divided society have a common market?

There is a glaring mismatch between the NDA’s economic and social policies. Can a people geared for honest tax compliance afford to be actively insular or communal?

analysis Updated: Jul 06, 2017 00:25 IST
GST,Vigilantes,Narendra Modi
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the launch of GST at midnight, at the special ceremony in the Central Hall of Parliament in New Delhi, July 1(PTI)

Are governments at the Centre and in States doing enough to curb vigilantism? The question is pertinent. For gau rakshaks are on the prowl, undeterred by citizens’ protests, unmindful of appeals by top constitutional functionaries.

President Pranab Mukherjee has spoken. So has Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They both called for an end to the beastly spectacle. But bloodletting continues, law and order machineries across states forever reactive when they need to be proactive.

For policemen and their political masters, the lesson is in the President’s call to be proactively vigilant against vigilantism. Ironically, while Mukherjee spoke at a Congress-organised function in Delhi, the BJP’s Amit Shah underscored the reactive part at a party meet in Goa. He said cow vigilantes were being dealt with: “There’s no case where we haven’t taken action.”

That’s where the problem lies. There are two aspects to police work: preventive and detective. When lynching (murder) happens, a case has to be registered. There’s no escape from it. The catch is in taking investigations to a logical conclusion. Conviction rate is the proof of the police’s pudding!

The reality more often than not is that manipulations happen after cases are lodged and suspects booked. Public memory being short, culprits move out of jail as news headlines move on to other issues.

Police probes in such matters are guided by the political will of the government of the day. Courts go by the quality of evidence that can be vitiated by made-to-order forensic reports, witnesses turning hostile or complainants threatened.

Only a pro-active pursuit of crime-inclined or faith driven vigilantes can check such brazen denial of justice. The distinction I’ve made between the predatory and zealotry cow protectors was originally flagged by the PM himself.

In August last year, Modi said the so-called gau rakshaks who claimed to be protectors during the day often resorted to criminal activities at night. The indictment failed to fetch salutary response even in BJP-ruled states, prompting him to make another appeal almost a year later — in the wake of the recent NotInMyName citizens’ protests across metropolitan India.

The PM invoked Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave while speaking at Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Ashram. He said nobody spoke more than them about protecting cows: “This (violence) is not something Mahatma Gandhi would’ve approved of.”

Yet, within hours of the soft prime ministerial reprimand, vigilantes killed another man in Jharkhand. The audacious disregard of his counsel in the state where the BJP is in power called for a response akin to fighting terror. The over-ground vigilante modules, so to speak, deserve to be busted before they get into striking mode. State instrumentalities in such cases could be preventive arrests and proscription of groups identified with mob violence.

Provisions must also be made for early trial and conviction of habituated offenders. The fanaticism the cow vigilantes embody has globally sullied India’s image. Their shenanigans, as the PM alluded, have no place in Bapu’s India. Or in Modi’s own single-market Bharat!

That brings one to the PM’s speech at the launch of Goods and Services Tax in Parliament’s Central Hall: “the GST is not just a tax reform. It is a landmark step towards economic reforms. Beyond the taxation revamp, it will pave the way for social reforms.”

A laudable thought indeed. But are the envisioned changes achievable without delivery systems that are equitable and fair-- besides being “good and simple”? Can a society geared to honest tax compliance afford to be actively insular or communal?

The answer is a no-brainer. There is, to state the least, a glaring mismatch between the NDA’s economic and social policies. Rather than quoting Gandhi to the marauders, the PM has to, if he’s serious, crack down on the killer mobs having a free run of the place.

Who’d know better than a Gujarati that capital hates upheavals. It arrives and grows only in societies that are at peace with themselves.

The meat of the issue is that there can be no one market in a divided society. To sew up the country into a seamless whole, those in power should be willing to lose elections to regain the trust of alienated sections. As Rajiv Gandhi did in insurgency-hit Assam and Punjab in 1985. He lost elections but won the states back for India.


First Published: Jul 05, 2017 18:38 IST