Those accusing PM Narendra Modi and FM Arun Jaitley of having pushed the National Herald case against Congress President Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi to pressure the party to support the GST Bill and other legislation must keep in mind that, if Modi and Jaitley had their way, they would have preferred the case not coming up right now as it was always obvious the Congress was looking for excuses to stall reforms. Even at the time the prime minister was inviting Sonia Gandhi and former prime-minister Manmohan Singh for tea to discuss the GST Bill, the newly-invigorated Rahul Gandhi was harking back to his grandmother’s old socialist rhetoric – in much the same way his mother had over the past decade. It is for this reason that, while sensibly arguing against the 1% inter-state levy in the GST Bill, the Congress packed other unreasonable demands like putting an 18% ceiling on the GST tax rate in the Bill itself – the surest way of ensuring the GST Bill never went through.
So, after trying to ensure tempers didn’t cool – contrast this with the calm showed by the prime minister during the debates on both the Constitution as well as intolerance – the day of the meeting, Rahul was telling national TV that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had called upon Congress leaders under pressure, and that the party’s strategy was not of consultation. He then went on say the BJP was out to hurt the interests of farmers with the Land Bill and it was the Congress party that had ensured the Bill never went through – never mind that India needs land for industrialization and urbanization if the same farmers are to be lifted out of poverty, or that farmers would be better off if they were going to get 4 times the value of their property under the BJP’s Bill; nor was any thought paid to land acquisition during Congress and other regimes at throwaway prices. And then, amazingly for a party that has just lost the national elections so badly it could not even get the necessary seats to qualify for the leader of Opposition post in Parliament, Rahul Gandhi said the labour reforms proposed by the BJP were going to hurt labour and the Congress would do its best to stop them – everyone knows the so-called pro-labour policy of the last 68 years has ensured poor jobs growth and so-called anti-labour reforms would do more to generate jobs; in other words, Rahul was hoping he’d be able to convince the electorate of the same rhetoric that failed in the elections 18 months ago.
As for the National Herald case, it has to be kept in mind it first came up in 2013, when the Congress party was in power, so there was no question of the BJP leadership trying to come up with it to put pressure on the party to pass the GST Bill, or any other legislation for that matter. The allegations, first made by Niti Central, were straight-forward – that Congress leaders like Sonia and Rahul Gandhi had connived to take over the National Herald, using the Congress party’s money, and that this was done with an eye to the property owned by the newspaper. Whether the allegations hold water or not, is for the courts to decide, and that is where the matter is. If all malfeasance charges against politicians are to be settled out of court – which is what the Congress party’s strategy seems to be amounting to – it is a sad day for Indian democracy.