Revisiting GST

Public anger over GST helped fell Malaysia’s Najib Razak. Should Narendra Modi be worried?

In a country where even the humble onion can weigh on electoral fortunes, botching up the GST any further could prove costly.

On May 9, Malaysia’s 15 million voters delivered a shock verdict, evicting incumbent prime minister Najib Razak and unseating the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition after 60 years in power.

Corruption charges were central to the Barisan Nasional’s downfall, given Najib’s alleged involvement in the 1MDB scandal where $700 million was apparently funnelled from government coffers into his own bank account. But there was another factor: the rising cost of living, triggered by the introduction of the goods and services tax three years ago, which led to popular resentment against the Najib administration.

In India, the Narendra Modi government rolled out the GST last July. Ten months on, businesses are still grappling with the complexities of the new tax structure. Until last month, the government had made 376 changes to the new law, sparking confusion. Although India’s reaction to the new tax regime has not been as hostile as in Malaysia, is there a lesson to be learnt for the political leadership in Delhi?

“There are a lot of parallels between Malaysia and India as in both nations GST replaced the earlier complex tax structure,” said Uday Tharar, a Mumbai-based economist with an emerging market fund. “Also, in both nations GST was heavily criticised by the opposition and the trading community. Both countries have a huge number of tax offenders who didn’t appreciate it either.”

When the Najib government introduced the GST in Malaysia in April 2015, it was well aware that the move was going to be unpopular. In fact, the prime minister openly said on May 8 that this was the hardest decision he had made during his nine-year tenure. Soon after the Malaysian government introduced a standard 6% duty on all taxable items, confusion over prices kicked off. For instance, prices of automobiles, which were expected to go up, came down a notch. Consumers began holding back big-ticket purchases, partly influenced by stagnant salary growth.

“Government fiscal performance suffered in 2015-2016 right after the implementation of GST due to the global oil price collapse,” Tharar explained, outlining Malaysia’s dependence on oil revenues. “Hence, the opposition was able to create an image in the public’s mind that GST was to be blamed for the poor fiscal performance of the government.”

The deep resentment caused by the GST has persisted, and the opposition party, led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who won the polls, included the abolition of the controversial tax structure as one of its electoral promises.

Not so good and simple

In India, the Modi government introduced the GST while the country was still recovering from the shock of demonetisation, announced in November 2016. Unsurprisingly, the economy went into a tailspin.

Moreover, India’s GST structure has five tax brackets, between 0% and 28%, which has only added to the confusion. An April 2018 survey by Wydr, India’s largest mobile-based wholesale marketplace, revealed that the majority of the businesses polled still did not fully understand how the GST worked. “It is a very complicated tax structure and it is being implemented on a large scale in India,” said a taxation expert with a tax e-filing platform, requesting anonymity. “As a result there are going to be hiccups and pain points that will last for at least a few months more.”

Despite the teething troubles, India needs the GST and the Modi government must now focus on its proper implementation, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit, a consultancy firm. “The benefits for India from the GST are crucial for long-term economic development, since the GST is an efficient tax for steadily raising fiscal revenue as the size of the economy continues to grow,” Biswas added. “Moreover the GST is crucial for reducing logistics costs for Indian industry and making Indian manufacturing more competitive.”

But in a country where even the humble onion can weigh on electoral fortunes, botching up the GST any further could potentially turn out to be a costly mistake. “The main reason India is struggling with GST is because of the number of tax slabs,” Tharar said. “Unless the number of tax slabs are reduced it will continue to create confusion. However, reducing the number of tax slabs looks unlikely in the near future due to political constraints.”

This article first appeared on Quartz.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.