Barring Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Opposition to skip GST rollout ceremony, Arun Jaitley urges them to rethink

The JD(U), however, reiterated its support to the tax reform measure, and said it would leave the decision to its MPs. But the party criticised the BJP for what it termed as an attempt to project the GST launch as “a great historic moment”.

Written by Manoj CG , Santosh Singh | New Delhi/patna | Updated: June 30, 2017 12:16 pm
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his North Block office on the eve of  GST launch by President Pranab Mukherjee in Parliament. Express Photo by Renuka Puri.

On the eve of the midnight meeting to mark the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Congress on Thursday announced its decision to boycott the event, calling it a “publicity gimmick” and “tamasha”. While the Trinamool Congress was the first to announce its boycott earlier this week, other Opposition parties like the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left have also decided to stay away.

The JD(U), however, reiterated its support to the tax reform measure, and said it would leave the decision to its MPs. But the party criticised the BJP for what it termed as an attempt to project the GST launch as “a great historic moment”. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday appealed to the Opposition parties to reconsider their decision, asking them to “display broad shoulders” and not “disassociate” from the decision they were a party to.

Announcing its decision at a press conference on Thursday, the Congress cited various reasons — from the choice of venue to “killings of minorities and Dalits”, violence against women, and farmer suicides. Party leaders said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was specially invited to the event being held in the Central Hall of Parliament on Friday night, would also stay away. “These are the two reasons… the ongoings in the country and the fact that functions held in the Central Hall in the past were related to India’s independence,” said Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad.

The party said midnight sittings have been held in the Central Hall only thrice in the past — on August 15, 1947; in 1972 to mark the 25th anniversary of India’s independence; and in 1997 to celebrate the 50th anniversary. The Congress said that by convening the function in the Central Hall, the government was “insulting the very memory of India’s freedom struggle and the sacrifices associated with it”. “Perhaps for the BJP, 1947, 1972 and 1997 may be of no relevance because they played no role in securing India’s freedom. So perhaps they don’t give it much importance… But we give importance,” said Azad.

Stating that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his ministers and the BJP’s chief ministers were silent on the “developments” in the country, he said: “That is the second issue… the distress faced by farmers… their suicides, the merciless attacks and killings of minorities and Dalits in several states… There is no action, the continuing violence against women… The government is deaf to the cries of the poor, women, Dalits, minorities… The worsening security situation in the country, the situation at the border, the fall in GDP… The government is not paying attention to any of these issues.”

The party said the GST was “neither a perfect Bill”, nor did it ensure “one nation, one tax” as being touted by the government, and argued that the country was “ill-prepared”. Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress’s leader in Lok Sabha, said the UPA government had passed several significant Acts like the RTI Act, Food Security Act, MGNREGA and Right to Education Act, but never held such celebrations in the Central Hall.

“This is a taxation law. It can be amended tomorrow. It can be amended several times. The government just wants to indulge in publicity… they are masters in publicity,” he said. Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said the “midnight spectacle, ignoring the harsh realities of the country, the distress of farmers, rising unemployment, growing insecurity, intolerance, cannot be endorsed. The Congress cannot be party to such a tamasha, a publicity gimmick merely for taxation purpose.” Jairam Ramesh said the government had converted GST into a “Grand Self-Promoting Tamasha”.

He said GST was first mentioned in 2003, and was included in the Budget speech for the first time in 2004. In 2007, he said, the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram set April 2010 as the deadline for rolling out GST, but two BJP chief ministers — Narendra Modi of Gujarat and Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh — blocked it for seven long years.

“Kal ke virodhi aaj ke maharadhi ban rahe hain,” he said, adding that while the Congress supports GST, the current Act needs several changes. “GST was conceptualised and taken forward by us… It has been possible today because the Congress has been a responsible Opposition…” said Sharma. He added that the GST Act still has several infirmities, as over 40 per cent of the revenue base — petroleum, electricity, alcohol, real estate — have been kept out. Supporting the Congress stand, RJD national spokesperson Manoj Kumar Jha said the party had decided to “boycott this mega spectacle of optical illusion”. “Though we have been in favour of GST, we believe there are pressing concerns, particularly among the small and medium level traders and manufacturing units, which remain unaddressed,” he said.

The JD(U), however, took a different line from its allies, soon after its earlier decision to back NDA presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind. “We have been supporting GST from the very beginning and will lend our support in the final moments. We, however, have left the decision on attending the meeting to the discretion of our MPs. We have not issued any whip,” said JD(U) national spokesperson K C Tyagi.

He said it would be unfair to link any political motive to the decision. “Bihar is a non-manufacturing state… it is basically a consumer state which will gain immensely from GST. The Bihar Assembly and Council passed resolutions in its support,” said Tyagi. He, however, took on the BJP for seeking to project the implementation of GST as “a great historic moment, in parallel with the ‘freedom at midnight’ moment”. Tyagi said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would not be able to attend the session because of prior engagements, but senior minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav would represent the state government.

Meanwhile, urging the Opposition parties to attend the event, Jaitley said: “I can say this without fear of contradiction, that there has never been this (kind of) exercise… this kind of political consultation and political consensus in bringing the GST… They must now display broad shoulders and own up (to) this decision. Symbolic boycotts are not an evidence of any kind of disassociation from these decisions.” Every government, he said, has been an equal participant in the decision, and nobody, through “a symbolic political gesture, can disassociate from it”. “Every political party should have the courage to own up (to) a reform for which they voted,” he said.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu said the midnight event was not a celebration, and neither the BJP nor the NDA government had tried to take credit for the final launch of GST. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on several occasions, complimented and thanked all political parties and state governments for their constructive contribution to make GST a reality from July 1. So, this is a Team India event. The Congress, in its wisdom, has chosen to opt out of this Team India event. I am sure they will repent, besides paying a heavy price for this,” he said.

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  1. A
    Jul 1, 2017 at 6:08 am
    GST is hoax to mislead from the failure of Modi Regime. This BJP Regime has failed miserably and has destroyed all development of 50 years in just 3 years so it is using RSS Gau Rakskaks, Bajrang Dal Terrorists to Lynch innocents. Fake Modi Regime destroyed country's economy with Demonetization. It sometimes divert attention through Triple Talaq and sometimes many other such hoax. Country is on the brink of becoming a Failed State under Modi. Nitish is a opportunist BJP agent who thinks after the downfall of Modi he will take over because every Modi policy is causing immense harm to people and country and Ache Din was a biggest hoax and lie.
    1. Mahender Goriganti
      Jul 1, 2017 at 3:09 am
      Except the Scamgress trio of Maya, Sonia and Didi Begums all most all others attended. In any case those who in't attend are the losers, nobody felt their absence except the Islamic express con journos and con media!!.
      1. B
        Jun 30, 2017 at 7:51 pm
        sab chor hain. If they really care for the country they will strengthen the RTI not kill RTI activists. Amit jethwa, a RTI activist killed outside Gujarat High Court, when he was going there to ask for justice for common people. CBI AND GUJARAT POLICE mislead the investigation. Our politicians will not bring lokpak, will try to make RTI weaker for there benefits and you think they will bring GST to help common man! Nautanki.
        1. K
          Jun 30, 2017 at 6:04 pm
          Modi phobia to a ridiculous extreme. But the tragedy is that the Opposition Parties do not realize that such actions will only alienate them further from the masses and it will be their moment to boycott them in any election in future. One wonder what is the standing of many of these worthies among the public and how many of them will save heir deposit if they ever stand for an election? Krish
          1. K
            Jun 30, 2017 at 11:08 pm
            Narendra Bhai NAUTANKIWALA is a great EVENT MANAGER,. There is no dispute about it . This is also on record that he has turned 180 degree in regard to GST .Just to cover-up his very strong opposition he is doing this NAUTANKI at midnight. GAU-PUTRA NARENDRA BHAI ZINDABAD
          2. N
            Jun 30, 2017 at 5:45 pm
            Why all these worthies are boycotting the function to launch GST across the country is a mystery. They had already extended their support to the bill and now are falling in line with the Congress to boycott the function. This is ridiculous. The lefties, Congress, Lalu and Mamata, a good combination indeed.
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