Arnab questions the Modi government on GST rate hike. No, we are not joking

He couldn't help have a go at Rahul Gandhi as well, but that’s no news.

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Sometimes, an occurrence makes for news for no other reason than how rare it is. Think man bites dog. The other night, the world of TV news bore witness to just such an occurrence: Arnab Goswami of Republic TV questioned the government for hiking the Goods and Services Tax rates. He questioned the Narendra Modi government, not the opposition. This man did.

The rate hike will likely make many food items and commodities more expensive. Arnab would have none of it. “The ruling BJP that made tall promises of GST being the solution to aam aadmi’s problem must answer why is this happening?” the anchor thundered in the opening monologue of his show, The Debate with Arnab Goswami. “How much more should the common tax paying citizen suffer and pay for?”

When GST was rolled out, Arnab recalled, the Modi government had declared that they would not tax basic commodities. Now, they were. “Were they under any compulsion to do so?” Arnab asked RK Misra, a Carnegie India nonresident scholar he had brought on to “debate” the matter, along with consumer policy expert Bejon Misra, Congress party’s Sankara Guha, Samajwadi Party’s Abbas Haider, BJP’s Sanju Verma, and the Hindu nationalist Twitter personality Rishi Bagree.

Misra replied that it was the wrong decision.

Arnab then listed out some of the things that the GST rate hike will likely make dearer for the consumer – rice, milk, LED lamps, pencil sharpeners - and asked Sanju Verma for an explanation. “You are touching the lives of common people in a very basic way,” the TV anchor reminded her. Verma scarcely opened her mouth to answer but was shouted down by fellow panellist Misra. After she had mustered to string together a few sentences over the din, it was Arnab’s turn to yell, “You are the ruling party. Of course some tough questions will be asked to you.”

Verma replied in kind, going a full minute shouting back at and over Arnab, who it seemed would not stop to even breathe. If you are the kind of person to watch Arnab with any regularity – welcome to the club, champ! – you could be forgiven for thinking he had momentarily mistaken Verma for an opposition leader. But no, this was for real.

“You are not a messiah for the middle class,” Verma needled him.

“You want to make a single personal comment at me,” Arnab promptly retaliated, “I will hit back very hard.”

Presumably still riled, he continued, “I come from a very middle class family. I am an army officer’s son. I studied in a government school. I have gone through my education with scholarships, you have no right to comment on me personally.”

He earned an honest income and paid his taxes. Oh, and Verma’s own government had sent his company a letter declaring it one of the “best taxpayers” in the country. Quite what it means to be the “best taxpayer” Arnab didn’t explain. Verma didn’t offer an explanation either.

But enough of the man’s personal struggles.

Arnab dusted himself off – metaphorically, lest it needs clarifying – and asked Verma to explain why her government was reducing fuel prices on one hand and raising cereal prices on the other. The poser worked like a charm, for the “debate” instantaneously devolved into a shouting match. It took Arnab’s trademark yelling to restore some semblance of order. “The middle class of the country,” he thundered, “does not need to be given any more bitter pills.”

The Congress representative, cast in the unfamiliar role of not being Arnab’s main punching bag, declared that the finance ministry was a total failure. This wasn’t his assessment, mind, Guha hastily added, as if twisting the knife, he was quoting no less an authority than BJP grandee Subramanian Swamy. Would the BJP representative care to comment on Swamy’s dire analysis, Guha asked?

Verma duly obliged, and how! “Who the hell is Subramanian Swamy. He wanted Nirmala Sitaraman’s job”.

We half expected Arnab to ask if that would have been such a bad idea given the state of India’s economy. Such was the form he was in.

But Arnab is Arnab, as the cliche goes, old habits die hard.

He somehow found a way to bring up Rahul Gandhi and go at him. Putting on his psychoanalyst’s hat, Arnab declared that the Gandhi scion had failed to succeed as a political leader not because he had the misfortune of running into the anchor and coming out looking not so good, but because the Congressman had once remarked that poverty was a state of mind.

His nightly deed done, Arnab let the assembled talking heads shout at and over each other for a bit before turning to Guha, the opposition’s representative, “The opposition leaders sat in the GST council meeting and approved it, Sankara, why are you quiet now?”

He concluded by advising the government to reconsider the GST rate hike. “In the public good, politics is not good.”

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