How a 12-course Kashmiri feast broke the GST logjam
By A Staff Writer
Sun, Dec 25 2016. 11 19 PM IST
J&K finance minister Haseeb Drabu, a consummate foodie, hosted a sumptuous lunch ahead of GST Council meetings, working wonders on delegates’ moods.
Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Haseeb Drabu. Photo: Hindustan Times
As the cliché goes, the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. This is what transpired last Friday, the second and final day of a key meeting of the goods and services tax (GST) council, the apex body deciding on the country’s marquee indirect tax reform. Food diplomacy achieved what consultations and cajoling couldn’t.
The build-up to the GST council’s meeting did not portend well. For one, there was the anti-demonetisation hangover, particularly among political rivals of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the council. Second, a trust deficit, largely inspired by the machinations of a bureaucracy threatened with redundancy, had again developed between the centre and states. Third, Kerala finance minister Thomas Issac, a trenchant critic of demonetisation and the resident dissident in the council, skipped the meeting; though it was due to ill health, most saw it as an ominous sign.
Clearly the signals were overwhelmingly negative—the threat of negotiations going off the rails was fast becoming real—even as the clock on the rollout of GST wound down.
Indeed the mood was sombre and expectations of an outcome were low.
However, Haseeb Drabu, finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, had other ideas, revealed an insider who requested anonymity.
On a whim, Drabu, a consummate foodie—like the chairperson of the GST council, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley—offered to host lunch, replacing the standard official servings with a spread of Kashmiri delicacies.
In hindsight, a sumptuous 12-course meal ahead of the formal conversations was the ideal antidote, working wonders on the mood of the delegates attending the seventh meeting of the GST council, some of whom even veered towards somnolence after the repast. Not surprisingly, the angry interventions that marked the last meeting of the council were missing and the deliberations even generated consensus on the GST compensation formula, with both states and the centre agreeing to meet each other halfway.
It possibly set the stage for a compromise when the council reassembles on 3 January on the otherwise contentious issue of sharing of administrative powers in governing GST.
Drabu’s co-conspirator in organizing the feast was his former schoolmate and restaurateur Sanjay Raina. The latter’s food outlet, Gurugram-based Mealability, conjured up the fare; the tagline on the Facebook site of Mealability promises “India’s first top-end homemade authentic Kashmiri food experience”.
Due care was taken not to give the customary short shrift to vegetarians—their main course included haakh, nadru yakni, dum aloo, chaman kaliya and chauk vangun.
For non-vegetarians, the fare on offer was rista, gushtaba, rogan josh, mucch kofta and chicken kaliya. The relishes, mooli chutney, onion chutney and green chutney, were shared.
And for dessert, the guests could choose between saffron phirni and suji halwa.
And the thing about courses, particularly in Kashmiri food, is that you consume small quantities in each round, but over an entire hour, the sum total of these helpings is a sumptuous feast.
To draw on another cliché, the proof of a pudding lies in the eating; in this instance, literally so. That it meant so much to everyone was evident.
But Captain Abhimanyu, finance minister of Haryana, took it a step further by formally moving a resolution thanking the Kashmir government and Drabu for their hospitality. Overnight, Kashmir became the overwhelming favourite in the GST council.
And now there is a popular buzz in the council favouring the hosting of one round of the ongoing dialogue in Srinagar. Is Drabu listening?