लैंड बिल : भाजपा की हिफाजत में कारपोरेट मीडिया का अटैक

अंबानी घराने की कारपोरेट मीडिया गतिविधियों को लेकर बेचैनी और सतर्कता का आलम अब छन-छन कर बाहर की सुर्खियां बनने लगा है। उसके नेटवर्क-18 वाले ऑन लाइन समाचार मंच ‘फर्स्‍टपोस्‍ट’ प्रबंधन में पिछले दिनों जो कुछ घटा है, अंदरखाने की बेचैनी का साफ खुलासा कर देता है। इसके पीछे असली मालिक अंबानी घराने का भाजपा-प्रेम भी एक बड़ा मुद्दा बनता जा रहा है। लैंड बिल को लेकर ‘इन डॉट कॉम’ और ‘द न्‍यूज मिनट’ के दो लेख पूरे हालात के किंचित संकेत देते हैं।  

फर्स्‍टपोस्‍ट के एडिटर इन चीफ आर. जगन्‍नाथ का (‘GST, Land Bill On Hold: Modi May Have To Rethink Jaitley As Finance Minister) का लेख पिछले महीने वेबसाइट से निरस्त कर दिया गया था। ‘द हूट’ के मुताबिक शीर्ष प्रबंधन के हस्‍तक्षेप से असंतुष्ट होकर वेबसाइट के एग्जिक्‍यूटिव एडिटर लक्ष्‍मी चौधरी ने पिछले महीने अपना इस्‍तीफा भी दे दिया था। 

लैंड बिल पर ‘इन डॉट कॉम’ पर प्रकाशित आर. जगन्‍नाथ का लेख इस प्रकार है –


In all probability, the monsoon session of parliament, beginning on Tuesday(21 July) is likely to be drowned in a cacophony of politics. The Congress party has smelt blood in the Madhya Pradesh Vyapam scam and the Lalit Modi controversy that has embroiled the Rajasthan Chief Minister and the External Affairs Minister, and is digging in its heels over the Land Acquisition Bill.The first law of politics is that parties that have the upper hand politically will not let go of the opportunity easily, never mind what damage it does to the economy. So the Congress party will not let parliament function without obtaining the heads of Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Vasundhara Raje something the BJP is not going to oblige it with. So the land bill and GST could be casualties.

The real problem for Narendra Modi is that he needs those chief ministers more for the success of his five-year tenure than some of his own cabinet ministers, since growth and jobs depend on their ability to bring in state-level supportive reforms, especially when the Congress is blocking all legislation at the centre. If, for example, the burden of legislating sensible land acquisition laws will shift to states, Modi needs Raje and Chouhan (and some of his other CMs) more than some of his under-performing cabinet ministers. The CMs to remove are not the competent ones, but the not-so-competent ones, like Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra.Among his cabinet ministers, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari, Suresh Prabhu, Manohar Parrikar and Nitin Gadkari are the clear current and potential future performers. Arun Jaitley and Smriti Irani are the underperformers. The latter are the ones that Modi needs to let go of if he wants delivery. Finance and HRD are the cornerstones of his programme to take India to a new level of growth and jobs, and he cant afford to have weak performers here.When the economy is in trouble, finance is the most important portfolio. 

If growth is still some quarters away, it is because North Block has to been slow realise what it was up against. Arun Shourie’s veiled critique of the finance ministry is thus valid. Thanks to the finance ministry’s weak response to the emerging economic situation, the Modi premium on economic governance is gone, thanks to a weakened finance ministry.Nothing illustrates this better than what is likely to happen in parliament this week. While there is a way out on the land bill where the centre can allow states to pass their own laws – in the case of the GST the chances are we will be stuck with a bad law, thanks to Jaitleys efforts to claim credit for introducing the most important tax reform ever (GST). Jaitley probably believes that half-a-loaf on GST is better than no loaf, but his political judgment in this regard is probably wrong. In the case of GST, half a loaf may do damage to the BJP, and to the economy. Modi has nothing to thank him for if this law passes.

The three problem areas for GST are:1) the one percent additional tax that manufacturing states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu want to levy to avoid losing revenues when GST kicks in;2) the exclusion of alcohol, tobacco and petro-products from GST, and3) the high revenue-neutral rate of GST due to these exclusions.While lingering state resistance to revenue losses may be met by Jaitley promising full compensation for five years (and not on a tapering scale where the compensation falls to 75 percent and 50 percent in the last two years), what is not being reckoned with in this push for GST in a hurry is its real cost.Any government should know that implementing GST will involve one year of teething trouble in fixing IT bugs, standardising and frequently revising rules and procedures, and ironing out the paper work. This means 2016-17 will be a washout for GST even if the law is legislated this year.Next, once implemented, if the revenue-neutral rate is anywhere above 20 percent, there will be a cost-push effect. When you are paying lower GST rates now on services, a sharp increase in GST to 20 percent plus will push up services inflation. Services are 60 percent of the economy. 

We are going to see supply-disruptions and cost-push pricing changes all through 2016-17 and 2017-18 as the ambit of GST widens. GST will settle down only in 2018-19, which means all through the run-up to the 2019 elections, we are going to hear a cacophony of angry dissent on GST.Even worse from the BJPs point of view, GST will bring large segments of the retail trade a core support base for the BJP in the past into the tax network. You are likely to hear shrill voices against GST very soon as it is about to be implemented. From traders to manufacturers, all of them will have to invest in new software and technology to comply with GST. There are only pain points in GST for the first two years.Put another way, no government will be a hero when implementing GST. So one wonders why Jaitley believes that this is a reform that needs prioritisation politically, even if the end-result is a hybrid law with many problems.Given the shortening political time-table after this year (we have major state assembly elections coming up in 2016 and 2017), it is worth going slow on GST right now and work towards a wider consensus where states are seen pushing for it rather than just the centre. 

In a federal structure, it is not good for the centre to push an idea which states believe is not that good for them.The real problem for Narendra Modi is that he has the wrong man in the finance ministry. Arun Jaitley may be an excellent lawyer and debater, but he has not shown the sharpness required to run the finance ministry when this is the most important task before the Modi government.The finance ministry has repeatedly goofed up. First, it produced a lousy 2014 budget. The second one this year was better and moderately reformist, but there is no clarity on how it will pan out. For example, five months out, we have not heard how corporate taxes are going to be cut next year and which tax exemptions will go to accommodate this cut.Next, the finance ministry has produced a dangerous black money law that is draconian. It is likely to drive more people out of the country than bring them in to invest here. Appearing hard on black money through a draconian law is the worst way to bring probity in financial transactions. 

It will only push up the cost of corruption, not eliminate it. What works politically for Modi and Jaitley will not work economically. Governments should focus on eliminating future creation on black money and not obsess about what is already lost.As Dev Kar, Chief Economist for Global Financial Integrity, wrote in The Indian Express last week: “In our experience, countries benefit more by curtailing the present rate of black-money creation than by trying to recover funds lost in the past. Numerous countries have found that getting back illicit funds and collecting unpaid taxes is an arduous, time-consuming and expensive task. In addition, the very real potential of punitive action on holders of such ill-gotten assets strongly discourages voluntary disclosure.”In short, Jaitley’s law to bring back black money is going to fail.Then we had the botched income-tax return (ITR) form that sought to obtain details about every individuals foreign trips, among other things. Jaitley had to backtrack, but making changes after the damage is done is indicative of a lack of attention to detail.Jaitley also showed no understanding of the importance of bank recapitalisation, till it became clear that public sector banks will neither lend more nor lower rates both vital for restarting the investment cycle – thanks to a high proportion of bad loans on their books. This decision, of not providing adequate capital, is now being reversed, but a sharp finance minister would not have needed public prodding to discover this.It seems that Arun Jaitley who leads Modis most important ministry is not the man for the job. It is time Narendra Modi bit the bullet and moved him even at a considerable loss of face. 

It does not benefit Modi to have Jaitley as FM when he has just three more budgets to go and lots of daily hard work to do to unclog the investment cycle before election time.Failure to revive the economy quickly is going to cost Modi dear. Atal Behari Vajpayees NDA lost in 2004 because revival came too late in the last year of its tenure. Modi cannot afford a repeat. (‘इन डॉट कॉम’ से साभार)

इस पूरे प्रकरण पर ‘द न्‍यूज मिनट’ में प्रकाशित सिद्धार्थ मिश्रा का लेख इस प्रकार है – 

The curious case of Firstpost’s missing editorial on Arun Jaitley 

On Sunday, news-website Firstpost took down an editorial published on July 20. The move was curious when we take into account the fact that the article was an opinion piece written by its Editor-in-chief R Jagannathan and questioned Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

Media-watchdog The Hoot first took note of the article being taken down and cited it to “Not so creeping interference”. The website also hinted that things were a bit shaky on the Firstpost home-front with its executive editor, Lakshmi Chaudhry, putting in her papers and the staff not too pleased with not having the freedom to criticise certain leaders in the current government.

The article itself, titled “GST, LAND BILL ON HOLD: MODI MAY HAVE TO RETHINK JAITLEY AS FINANCE MINISTER”, was critical of Arun Jaitley as the Finance Minister. The piece (now inaccessbile), which can still be found on Firstpost’s sister publication, in.com, went as far to suggest that the Prime Minister should re-evaluate Jaitley’s position as FM.

Firstpost is part of the Network 18 stable that was taken over by Reliance Industries Limited. Rumours then started doing the rounds of whether the corporate biggie would lay down an editorial line.

This is not the first time that an editorial pertaining to Jaitley has allegedly found itself devoid of white canvas. SC lawyer Ram Jethmalani had alleged “mischief” on Jaitley’s part when his piece in a weekly was taken down but TNM’s attempts to ask the journalistic ‘why’ was met with a stone-wall on this occasion.

We tried to get in touch with Chaudhry who had put in her papers during the time the article was still up on the site. She said that she was not speaking to anyone in the media about the matter. “Still serving notice period,” was her response, in a way confirming her exit from the organisation.

Firstpost editor R Jagannathan was not forthcoming on the matter either and refused to comment.

Highly placed sources within the company’s hierarchy however confirmed to TNM that changes were being touted in the editorial policy, especially about negative reporting on some top BJP leaders, however it was unsure if any concrete policy had been formulated.

“It seems unlikely that Firstpost will follow any diktat as long as Jaggi (R Jagannathan) remains at the helm,” said a senior Editor.

Media critic and journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta believes that the recent move will affect the “credibility” of the organisation.

“If the owners of Firstpost believe that the credibility of websites would be enhanced if there is no criticism of those in position and power even within the government, they are mistaken,” he says while speaking to TNM.

Thakurta adds that Firstpost comes across as a website which provided more opinion than news per se, and “even if the opinion is right-of-centre, shutting it out would not bode well for their credibility.” He says that what is also significant and may miss scrutiny “more importantly, is what is not put out (on their website).” (‘द न्‍यूज मिनट’ से साभार)

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