Veteran Congress leader and two-time chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh is currently general secretary of the party and a member of the Rajya Sabha. In an interview to SRI KRISHNA, he spoke on the prevailing political scenario and the alleged failure of the Narendra Modi government to handle the agrarian crisis as also various other issues, including demonetisation.
Q: How do you rate the performance of this government in the last three years, especially in regard to the economy?
A: First of all let me go on record to say that most of the schemes which Narendra Modi, personally, and the BJP, in totality, had opposed earlier are schemes for which they are now taking credit. They have changed the names and are proclaiming it as their schemes. They have brought nothing new. Of course as regards GST, we (the Congress-led UPA) wanted to bring it in 2006-07.
The idea was to have one nation, one tax, one slab, but they have made it multi-slab and kept petroleum, alcohol and real estate out of its purview. They are the sectors from which black money flows in and out. So a trader dealing with any of these three would have to file returns with GST and VAT.
Therefore, compliance with GST has become difficult. It is more so especially for small and medium traders who would have to hire chartered accountants and instead of four returns per year, they would have to file 37 returns a year. If you have businesses in three different places, it would be even more difficult as one would have to file 37 X 3 returns a year. On a daily basis crores of returns would be filed and these would have to be uploaded onto a server handled at the national level.
Do we have the infrastructure to handle this kind of data? What happens if the system is hacked? This government instead of keeping GST at a single rate of 18 per cent which we (Congress-led UPA) had proposed, has made it multi-slab with a maximum up to 28 per cent.
If you add on other rates, it would come to about 32 to 34 per cent. GST in its present format is not going to succeed. One major decision of this government was demonetisation and it has been a big disaster.
On 8 November 2016, the prime minister announced demonetisation with the objective of curbing corruption, black money, fake currency and terrorism. But the four objectives have not been met and instead the country has been loaded with extra expenditure of printing new notes and their distribution.
The RBI even after nine months is not able to reconcile how many demonetised notes have come in. On 30 June, the RBI files its balance sheet but probably this time they have not been able to go ahead because they don’t have the final figure of how many demonetised notes have come in.
One area where this government has succeeded is in marketing itself despite poor performance on the economic, social and foreign policy fronts. The money poured into a campaign such as Swachch Bharat Abhiyan is more than the actual money spent in building toilets.
Q: How do you view the foreign policy of this government, especially with the ongoing Sino-Indian border confrontation even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese leader Xi Jin Ping several times?
A: Let me confess that though foreign policy is not my forte, as a student of politics I see one has to be very clear on the issue of foreign policy. We do have border issues with China but since we are part of BRICS and also Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), both China and India who are major players in international politics have to sit down and resolve these issues.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has rightly pointed out that we both have to withdraw to original positions and then come to the table.
The present situation of a stand-off is not going to lead us anywhere. China and India have to act responsibly as trade and commerce between the two countries is important.
Q: The Kashmir valley continues to be rocked by violence. What is your stand on the handling of this issue by the government?
A: Sometimes, I feel that the government is deliberately acting to let this disturbance in Kashmir continue as it helps them because the politics of BJP and the RSS is that of polarisation. So, they are using disturbance in the Kashmir valley for political gains outside.
Two parties of conflicting ideologies came together to form the government (PDP and BJP). PDP advocated continuation of Article 370 giving special status and more powers to the state while the BJP fought the election on the plank of removing Article 370. It is a diametrically opposite situation.
This coalition cannot succeed. You will notice that ever since this coalition has come in, it is this conflicting ideology that is causing the situation to worsen in the last two-anda-half years.
Q:This government talks of cooperative federalism and the need to have better Centre-State relations.What is your take?
A: This government talks of cooperative federalism but has been targeting the smaller regional parties through the Enforcement Directorate, CBI and Income Tax department. Targeting political leaders who are opposed to you is something which should be avoided. You should also see the number of cases in which they are slowly taking away the powers of the state government.
Take, for example, the Mining Act, the authority of the state has been eroded. They have brought the Motor Vehicles Act, where again the authority of the state governments has been taken away by Government of India. So, when they talk of cooperative federalism, they should first look at the interest of the state governments and only through mutual discussion should any decision be reached.
They may say they have done it in GST. But the compliance procedure has not been looked at. Therefore by temperament and ideology, the RSSbacked BJP government is dictatorial and imposes its agenda on the states and political parties.
The statement by Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice Presidential candidate, that Hindi should be imposed on other languages is against the threelanguage formula.
Q: The agrarian crisis is increasing as also suicides by farmers.
A: Agriculture has become totally unviable. The policies of the Government of India have been against the interests of farmers. When there has been a bumper wheat crop, what is the idea of reducing import duty on wheat to zero per cent or on pulses to zero per cent or reducing import duty on edible oil. The moment you reduce the import duty, it depresses the market and reduces prices.
Then the support price for farmers comes down. Another factor is that the input price for the farmer has choked and in a primarily agricultural society where fertilisers used to be provided through cooperative societies, farmers are being forced to purchase fertilisers from private traders who are charging exorbitant rate of interest. The third factor is the depletion in ground water.
People are investing in tubewells as the scheme to replenish groundwater has not been implemented. Add to that, the kharif season from October to December and demonetisation which took place in November. Ninety five per cent of farmers sell their produce for cash.
When the kharif crop of farmers started coming in from November 2016 to January 2017, farmers could not get cash since traders told them that they would be paid only by cheque. The farmer would take the cheque and roam around without any cash.
Q: The Congress appears to be weakening and not able to counter the BJP.Why is it so?
A: Every party goes through a bad patch but its revives. The BJP is broadly a North Indian party whereas Congress is a party which is spread across the country.
In 2014 BJP ran a huge campaign through the media and social media and people believed that Congress party did not act against corruption. But, wherever there was misappropriation of funds, the UPA Government had given the cases to CBI and most of the cases involved the allied parties. Now Rahul Gandhi will rejuvenate the party by bringing in young people.
In 1977, too, people had written off the Congress but the party came back. We are sure people would see through the BJP since so far the farmers are not even getting 50 per cent of their dues while the government’s promise of providing employment to two crore persons has not been delivered.