Arun Jaitley at Harvard University drums up upside of GST, heads to IMF meetings

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wound up his Ivy League speech circuit drumming up yet again the merits of the Goods and Services tax and the tax net that has “widened” after demonetization.

On Wednesday, Jaitley delivered the Harvard Mahindra lecture at the Harvard South Asia Institute, headed by Professor Tarun Khanna.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley. PTI

Speaking at the Loeb House in the Harvard campus, Jaitley stuck to the overall script that he’s brought to the US which is the antithesis of the critics’ line back home in India. Jaitley’s pushback flies in the face of BJP elder Yashwant Sinha’s stinging criticism on Jaitley’s handling of the economy.

India’s economy has not slowed overnight but it’s rarely been in harsher spotlight in the last three years of the Modi government. Soon after the IMF economic outlook pegged India for a 6.7% growth in 2017 and 7.4% in 2018, one of Modi’s own Economic Advisory Council members debunked it saying 80% of IMF forecasts are wrong. No matter what the squabbling over the numbers, the economy is all the rage in Indian politics now, pushing even the PM to respond on next steps.

“Indian business is chafing, not so much because of GST because that will sort out slowly. Demonetisation was too much of a shock and business feels they’re being made scapegoats for no fault of theirs. Fact is that the economy is slowing and what were they ( Govt) doing from 2014?”, say Indian business travelers to Washington DC, requesting not to be named.

Meanwhile, with the annual IMF meetings in Washington DC, India’s FM is hard selling the India story to Ivy League audience and wealthy pension funds and investors.

Both at Columbia and Harvard, Jaitley whipped out useful data from Finance Ministry files that add to the body of information out in the public. Simultaneously, the Finance Ministry social media handlers have begun a data led tweetstrom of tax collection figures.

This was released by the Finance Ministry on the same day that the Finance Minister spoke at Columbia pointing to the widening tax base as evidence of demonetisation’s upside:
“Direct Tax collections up to September, 2017 show that net collections are at Rs. 3.86 lakh crore which is 15.8% higher than the net collections for the corresponding period of last year. Net Direct Tax collections represent 39.4% of the total Budget Estimates of Direct Taxes for F.Y. 2017-18 (Rs. 9.8 lakh crore). Gross collections (before adjusting for refunds) have increased by 10.3% to Rs. 4.66 lakh crore during April to September, 2017. Refunds amounting to Rs.79,660 crore have been issued during April to September, 2017. An amount of Rs. 1.77 lakh crore has been received as Advance Tax up to 30th September, 2017 reflecting a growth of 11.5%over the Advance Tax payments of the corresponding period of last year. The growth in Corporate Income Tax(CIT) Advance Tax is 8.1% and that in Personal Income Tax(PIT) Advance Tax is 30.1%.”

Last month, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi spoke first at UC Berkeley in the West Coast and then at Princeton. A few weeks ago, the Indian Embassy got in touch, says the Harvard SAI chief, for India’s FM to speak on campus. Clearly, the bazaar for sound bytes via Ivy League is booming. In this day and age of Facebook Live and Periscope, millions get these statements without constraints on time zone and adverts (Gandhi’s Berkeley event was on social media, the one at Princeton wasn’t). On their part, the speakers get the kick of addressing a thoughtful, if small, audience without the sort of interruption and sloganeering a comparable event would elicit at home.

Taken together, Rahul Gandhi plus Arun Jaitley would have covered four out of eight Ivy League colleges – Berkeley, Princeton, Columbia and Harvard – in less than 60 days. Jaitley also addressed Berkeley via video conference, so make that five.

Yale, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia and Princeton form the league of eight which embraces a wide sweep of connotations including but not limited to academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, social elitism and a common high-water mark for scholarship and athetics. Stanley Woodward, New York Herald Tribune sports writer, coined the phrase in the nineteen thirties.

Published Date: Oct 12, 2017 04:23 am | Updated Date: Oct 12, 2017 04:23 am

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