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A Swayamsevak And A Reformer

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) may be a huge success story, but it was Vajpayee who had visualised this

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The NDA government swears by the credo that it’s not the government’s business to be in business. While the dictum may have gained currency in the Narendra Modi era, its origin lies in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee period. Vajpayee, the swayamsevak, was an ardent reformer too.

Vajpyaee connected the length and breadth of India. The highway revolution that we showcase today began in the Vajpayee era. He also fathered the telecom revolution that has today resulted in almost 100 crore mobile connections in the country.
The biggest change, of course, was unleashing the second generation reforms in the country. He created a Department of Divestment and a Cabinet Committee on Divestment. The privatisation drive saw more than 30 state-run enterprises getting sold to private players in his full term.

In Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Vajpayee had colleagues who championed the reforms. But he also faced resistance from elements within the government and outside (RSS and Swadeshi Jagran Manch) who opposed the privatisation drive. Hindustan Petroleum Corporation could not be privatised as a result.

“He grappled with a lot of internal resistance from many in his own party and cabinet and organisations, who felt that the pace of economic change was rapid. He constantly supported change, reform, productivity, liberation, and fought forces in his own party. Enhancing economic change and helping India achieve leadership status remained his prime motivation,” recalls N.K. Singh, Chairman, 15th Finance Commission, who was a secretary in the Vajpayee government.

In 2001, Vajpayee launched the Golden Quadrilateral and North-South and East-West Corridor projects to connect the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata through four-lane highways. Also, Srinagar was sought to be connected to Kanyakumari and Silchar to Porbandar.

Vajpayee also revolutionised the telecom sector, with just about one crore mobile phones in 1999. In the same year, the BJP government moved to a revenue sharing regime from a licence fee regime. Although tele-density saw a remarkable jump in the following years, the government was also criticised for a “huge loss of revenue to the exchequer”. The government, led by Telecom Minister Pramod Mahajan, clarified that the objective was to democratise telecom and increase tele-density. Telecom leaders like Sunil Mittal have justly called Vajpayee the father of telecom revolution.

Vajpayee had a vision of energy security. His government invested in overseas projects. The run continues and India’s footprint has expanded to as many as 20 countries. As part of the energy security programme, the Vajpayee government also introduced blending of petrol with sugarcane-extracted ethanol.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) may be a huge success story, but it was Vajpayee who had visualised this. In 2000, Vajpayee formed a panel led by Communist leader and West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta to design a GST model.

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Magazine 18 August 2018 atal bihari vajpayee reforms