From Srinagar, GST meet sends out political message

SRINAGAR: The meeting of the goods and services tax (GST) council in Srinagar is turning out to be as much of a political statement as it is an important consultation on the pathbreaking tax reform.

Against a backdrop of protests often marked by stone-pelting, the Srinagar summer is cool and bracing. The calm may be deceptive but senior PDP members urge that Kashmir’s reality is “many layered”, and not defined by street violence alone. With visiting finance ministers busy taking in sights like the Hazratbal and Dal Lake ahead of the meeting, the GST council is a riposte to the depressing picture of alienation and violence. There is a possibility that a tour of the Dal might be a signal of solidarity with those who seek normalcy in the troubled state. A trip to Gulmarg has also been thrown in.

The Mehbooba Mufti government is keen to signal Jammu & Kashmir’s preparedness to be part of the emerging national narrative on GST, and has already moved on initiatives like a January-December financial year and a universal benefits policy. “We could look at agreements that the GST council is expected to reach during its consultations as a ‘Srinagar Declaration’. All the finance ministers arriving here are struck by the potential of the state and its tourist attractions,” said J&K finance minister Haseeb Drabu.

The streets in many towns and villages in the Kashmir Valley remain inflamed by the violent clashes that broke out after the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani last year. The use of pellet guns and repeated clashes with security forces have left many embittered.

But as some residents of Srinagar point out, there are many interests working against peace. The ring leaders behind stone-pelting are wellfunded and have no reason to prefer peace over strife. The opposition National Conference, as evident in its campaign during recent byelections, has played the separatist card. Amid such strong cross currents, the meeting of the GST council, with more than two dozen finance ministers in attendance, is an opportunity to showcase J&K’s increasing integration with India’s socioeconomic mainstream.

 As always peace is fragile, and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley — who holds additional charge as defence minister — headed straight into a review with the military brass led by Army chief General Bipin Rawat.
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