Former Commerce Minister and the current deputy leader of the Congress in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma makes his point on ‘Make in India’ and the pending reforms bills on the eve of the Monsoon session of Parliament, in an interview to Santwana Bhattacharya. Excerpts:
You asked for a White Paper on the economy which you say is not doing well in real terms. If that’s the case, is it right to stall the GST Bill now?
Let’s separate the two. The government’s claims on the economy are not based on ground facts. It was a recovering economy when we left it (gives figures). Plus, the crude prices have fallen and it is now half of what it was in the last few UPA years. It should have helped improve investment climate. But private sector is not investing. So government has to step in. Manufacturing, yield is low. Which means no job creation and existing jobs lost. Narendra Modi came with huge majority. It should have opened up more markets, avenues, given our entrepreneurs confidence. No such signs. Why? As an opposition, we have to ask questions and they have to provide the answers.
The outlook is positive. Good resonances can lift up the spirits?
The Prime Minister is creating a hype about a visionary road. What is new in it? ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Digitial India’, e-Biz—all pre-existed before May 16, 2014. ‘Make’ is a combination of previous initiatives—invest India, the four industrial corridors, manufacturing zones and e-Biz.
But the industrial and freight corridor got locked up during your time because of land acquisition issues. Mamata Banerjee was a stumbling block.
That is not true. Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) was the first to take off. Japan is the equity and technology partner for both DMIC and Chennai-Bangaluru corridor. Banerjee came in later for the Amritsar-Kolkata corridor. The National Manufacturing policy,2012 followed, designed to eventually create 100 million skilled jobs. E-Biz, a payment portal, was conceptualised in 2013, 26 services in 11 states were connected. What Modi has done is combined these under a common name and logo in ‘Make in India’.
But he seems to have caught the public’s imagination.
Well, I have the intellectual and political honesty to give Modi credit (for bringing our schemes together). But does he give us the credit? Or admit it is a continuation of what was conceived earlier. We did not beat the drum. Chidambaram and I should have.
If the UPA had done all this and more, then why did you lose the way you lost?
Not making claims, these are facts. We got $50 billion from Japan for the industrial corridor. What is their vision? What happened with us was that we lost the narrative. I’m not saying that nothing will move now. That is not desirable for the country. My point is: Don’t be boastful. Please don’t say ‘nothing before me’. Governance is a continuous process, please admit it.
BJP pointed out that you have plucked many policies from Vajpayee. Did you give him credit?
I am being very specific about the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’ programmes here. For everything, it is not ‘pehli bar’ (first time).
Coming back to GST, you gave a commitment to the government that after the Select Committee you will pass the bill?
It’s a constitutional amendment bill which has led to a GST bill. I gave no such commitment. GST was our bill. We have a commitment to GST, which eventually will make India one common market, bring uniformity in duties and taxes. It will give a big fillip to investment, bring down transaction cost, make our manufactured goods more competitive in the global market.
Why oppose then?
Who opposed GST all these years? That opposition charge was led by then Gujarat chief minister who is now the current prime minister of the country. The same happened with Insurance. FDI limit has been raised, how? Because we supported it. Earlier, it was a partisan opposition which compromised India’s national growth for political reasons.
What will get us GST?
We cannot have a half-baked GST. It has to be more inclusive GST. What is the point of keeping alcohol which generates black economy and illicit trade out of it, plus electricity and petroleum. If tax ceiling is kept as high as 26 per cent and we add 1 per cent more to it, plus these products out, can you imagine the burden on the people? It defeats the purpose of GST. If the multiple taxation regime is retained, on the side. Let the finance ministers of the 29 states thrash out the details, determine the states’ share, devise a redressal mechanism. We will then pass it.
On the Land Bill, I believe, you may agree to some minor amendments. Three to be precise, provided they restore social impact survey, consent, et el.
No deal on Land Bill. Let them bring a clarificatory amendment on the three-four points on the 2013 Land Acquisition Bill, we will support it. They are the government now, not the opposition. The Prime Minister has to listen to the people’s voice.
Which means a wash-out of a Monsoon session?
We’re not saying that. It depends on the Prime Minsiter. Let him remove the ministers, the chief ministers and those who were lobbying for Lalit Modi, and those who could not stop young people from dying due to the Vyapam scam. We are ready for a discussion in the Parliament.