GST: Modi’s midnight moment compared to those before
The stage was set with the Parliament building lit up and its historic Central Hall, which has seen many historic events and personalities in the past, filled with dignitaries including Members of Parliament, among others from various fields of life.
On the dais, which had the eyes of everyone gathered there and the lenses of cameras beaming the event live to those sitting at home in front of their television screens focused on it, sat President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Minister, HD Deve Gowda, Speaker of Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan and the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
But the event which was expected by many, including the critics and supporters of the government, to be the setting for the prime minister to take all the credit for the launch of the historic tax reform through the Goods and Services Tax, for which the midnight gathering had been called, had little, if any, of such chest thumping.
The speeches including those of the prime minister and the finance minister focused on the tax reform itself, and gave credit to all those who were a part of about a decade and a half long journey to make it a reality.
The prime minister said, "This historic reform is not an achievement of any one government or party. India is a shining example of cooperative federalism. The GST is a result of combined efforts of all political parties. The GST is a work of Team India. From Ganganagar to Itanagar, from Leh to Lakshwadeep, the nation will see one nation, one tax."
The opposition, most of which had boycotted the event, clearly thinking and feeling that such a grand setting would be used by Prime Minister Modi, who has a penchant for the spectacular, to mark his name all over the biggest tax reform in independent India's history and their presence would give credence to his expected claims.
The tone and tenor of the function though was markedly different to such thinking. While the change in the tax system of the country may very well become synonymous with Modi's name, to the prime minister's credit, it will not be due to the midnight gathering at Parliament and him taking credit for it.
This was not the first time that such an event had taken place in the Central Hall. And though there were certain similarities between the latest gathering with similar ones in the past, like the place, time, and those in attendance, there were marked differences as well.
It was the first time that members of the both the houses (Lok and Rajya Sabha) had gathered at midnight not to celebrate and commemorate historic moments like the independence of India (1972 and 1997 for the Silver and Golden jubilee celebration respectively) or the Quit India movement (Golden jubilee).
Instead it was the first time after independence that a new beginning for the country was being celebrated, that too economic. The only other time such a gathering symbolized a new dawn was when the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his famous "Tryst with destiny" speech to the Constituent Assembly in a midnight session on the eve of 15th August 1947.
And this may be considered the main reason why events held under the leadership of Indira Gandhi (1972), PV Narasimha Rao (1992) and IK Gujral (1997), were different in the political circumstances and the reactions that they generated. None of the allegations against the ruling party made this time were seen then. Even the functions themselves were quite different.
The grandest of them was the 50th anniversary of the independence in 1997 which saw not only speeches from the then President, K.R. Narayanan, but also performances by Lata Mangeshkar singing Mohammed Iqbal's famous 'Sare Jahan Se Achchha Hindustan hamara' and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi singing the National Song 'Vande Mataram.' The event also marked the day with fireworks and flood-lighting of public buildings, along with speeches such as those of Pandit Nehru and other senior leaders of the independence era played during the event
The 1992 gathering saw a sober function to observe the Golden Jubilee of Quit India Movement on August 8. It witnessed members standing and observing a minute's silence to 'express great admiration and regard and respect for those who have given their lives for the cause of independence and for all those who have suffered in this cause.'
Whereas little information is available regarding the midnight event in 1972 marking the 25th anniversary of Independence, it too had little controversy about it and saw speeches made, including the one made by then President, V V Giri and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
By breaking away from the tradition in terms of the reason of celebrating historic moments of India's past with a special meeting of both houses and invited dignitaries, Modi has made sure that when the history of our nation is recorded it will be not only in terms of political milestones but economic too. And that as a nation we are more attuned to looking at the road ahead and reaching a new destination rather than only celebrating the road travelled before.