Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley may have been credited with the passing of GST bill. But there have been many contributors for the success of the finest reforming legislation in India so far.
The bill was first conceptualised by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the year 1999 when his economic advisory panel, which included I.G. Patel, Bimal Jalan, C. Rangarajan and others, asked him to take up this bold reform.
Earlier, economist Raj Chellaiah had also suggested similar tax reform in India, which would have uniform tax system in the country. Then finance minister Yaswant Sinha took up the matter with the industry and set up an advisory panel which could guide the finance ministry regarding this. They proposed a committee comprising eminent economist be set up, so that they would understand the matter and its political fall out.
In 2000, a committee was set up to create the GST structure and to determine how to attain a uniform tax system in India. That committee was set up by then West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta. It was Vajpayee himself who spoke with then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, requesting him to spare Dasgupta.
An MIT doctorate, Dasgupta was then one of the finest econometrics specialists in India, which dealt with financial statistics. Coming to power in 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sped-up the process, admitting it as one of the best ever reform process. In 2007, the committee was formed by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to structure the GST bill. It was Dasgupta himself who headed that committee. According to Dasgupta, detailed discussions with industry, states and financial institutions started taking place.
"We held meeting till 2009 and met over 100 people who are concerned about it. By 2010 we finished eighty per cent of the total work on GST," said Dasgupta.
But in 2011 there was change of guard in West Bengal as left front government was defeated. Dasgupta resigned from the GST committee. After his exit, it was K.M. Mani, then finance minister of Kerala, who donned the cap of giving finishing touches to GST bill. But Mani left the job in 2015 when he was embroiled in corruption charges and resigned from the post of finance minister.
Though, 100 per cent of the bill was done, it was hanging in balance due to political consensus. Finance minister Arun Jaitley last year asked West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra to take up the job, after Mani’s exit.
It was Mitra who did the job of unifying the states to build the political consensus. So at a time when many thank Modi, Jaitley or Mitra, the real men behind this bold legislation are perhaps A.B. Vajpayee, Jyoti Basu, Asim Dasgupta, Manmohan Singh and K.M. Mani.