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Guest Column: Five PR lessons from GST Bill: Anup Sharma

Guest Column: Five PR lessons from GST Bill: Anup Sharma

Author | Anup Sharma | Thursday, Sep 15,2016 8:09 AM

Guest Column: Five PR lessons from GST Bill: Anup Sharma

“GST means Great Step by Team India, it means Great Step Towards Transformation, Great Step Towards Transparency, which is why we are bringing in GST,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha on the rollout of the country’s biggest tax reform since independence. What the European Union and the United States has been unable to do, India has done with a one-size-fits-all sales tax that will bring the Centre and the states together.

Proposed in 2000 by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of NDA Government, the GST gained focus during the Congress-led UPA government when the former Finance Minister P.Chidambaram set April 1, 2010 as the date for introducing GST. However, neither Chidambaram nor his successor Pranab Mukherjee could make any headway to clear the bill as a result it failed miserably. Many states, especially the ones ruled by the BJP, including the then Gujarat CM and now PM Narendra Modi, had opposed the bill. But with a thumping majority of 203 Ayes, Zero Noes in Rajya Sabha and 443 Ayes in Lok Sabha, history was written.

What can Communications professionals learn from all of this? Let’s have a look at five of the Public Relations lessons from the GST Bill.

1. Network & Collaborate

For the past one and a half years, the NDA Government silently worked behind the scenes to build a political consensus. From meeting leaders of the key regional parties, NDA ministers even urged business chambers, when their leaders came to meet them, to talk to Opposition parties to push GST.

Realising that the main opposition Congress party will keep blocking them at the centre, the Modi Government sought to build a coalition among the 29 State Governments (including those ruled by regional parties) to isolate the Congress party. BJP too was forced to give up its initial authoritarian approach and come to a consensus mode.

Lessons for PR:

Network with new people, you never know who you are going to meet and where that will lead to. Build on long term relationships without agenda, the larger your network is the more resourceful and valuable you are.

While dealing with big issues, identify organizations and bodies who are facing similar challenges and look at common grounds to collaborate. Show them the larger picture while being open to new ideas and make adjustments.



2. Customise & Communciate

To bring the Congress on board for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) reform, Modi team kept an open mind and made changes suggested by the opposition members based on the current needs. These included changes in the Constitutional Amendment Bill including doing away with the additional 1 per cent tax by producing states and compensating all states for any revenue loss in the first 5 years post the GST rollout. They ensured that they kept all channels of communications open and played this up in the media.

Lessons for PR:

PR is all about communications and communicating right is an art which has to have the is best done when its customized through research and co-created through a collaborative effort of all stakeholders.

Over the years, PR and the science behind it has changed. With new media consuming habits, today’s PR professional must be willing to absorb all kinds of new information and skills in order to succeed in the evolving media landscape. Knowing how the media works, and knowing how to work the media, will always be important – as important as understanding the need for communication.

3. Acknowledge and Appreciate

Prime Minister Modi compared the GST bill to Lord Krishna and said that while GST was ideated by someone, it was made a reality by someone else -- a reference to the fact that while the GST had been conceived by the Congress, the NDA made it a reality. According to Hindu mythology, Krishna, who is the son of Devaki, was brought up by foster-mother Yashoda.

“It is a true saying that someone gives birth and someone else nurtures. Someone gave birth to Krishna and someone else made him big but this is also a truth that this is not a victory of any political party or any Government. This is a victory of the great traditions of India’s democracy,” Modi said in his address to the Lok Sabha during the discussion for consideration and passage of the GST bill.

Lessons for PR:

When it comes to preparing the narratives for an effective communication, a lot of collaborative effort is at play. And it is very essential that one acknowledges and appreciate every stakeholder along the way to generate a message ready to be broadcast. A good PR consultant makes a conscious effort to engage in contributing and acknowledging. The more you work in partnership and more you acknowledge the better the results are!

4. Choose the Right Channel

When it came to getting a consensus on the GST bill, the Modi Government opened all channels to get the math right. From getting to convince the business houses  to individual states to the opposition political parties to reach a consensus, it was a task in itself. In series of meetings with all the state finance ministers, the government agreed to waive of the 1 percent state levy, which was a major breakthrough. Agreeing on a compensation for five years, most states nodded in favour of the Bill. Similarly, the issue of a dual control arose was sorted with government conceding  to the demand of the creation of an independent dispute resolution mechanism. After all this, the GST finally saw light at the end of the tunnel.

Lessons for PR:

Plan your PR campaigns with a long term vision with pre-defined measurable goals. Keep evaluating and revising based on the feedback.

For any communication to work effectively, it is important to be flexible and choosing the right channels which will support the objectives that you are trying to achieve.  For an effective message delivery, set the narratives, keep engaging with the stakeholders and spreading the message through right media mix customised for each stakeholder.

5. The process is never ending

While the Modi Government has managed to get the GST bill passed in the parliament, the levy of actual tax is still quite some time off. First, at least half of the country's 29 states will have to approve the bill before it can become law and then only the actual tax will need to be decided. The Government target for the tax coming into effect is April 2017 but many doubt it will be in place by then. It is meant to be an electronic tax with no more manual filing. The massive IT infrastructure will be an added challenge on the way to India's tax miracle.

Lessons for PR:

Communication never stops. You need to constantly engage with your stakeholders. In any form of communication, one needs to keep reinventing. And this is not simply a message about updating, but rather a more fundamental message about practices of public communication.

Things will change over time hence PR requires flexibility. Professional communicators need to look beyond the media platform technologies and reinvent to reconnect with publics using integrated communication platform.

(The author @TweetsAnup is a Strategic Communications Consultant with 2 decades  of experience in Public Relations, Political Campaign Management, Digital and Social Media Marketing)

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