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Hashtag Politics | ‘Only air remains to be taxed’: Oppn, govt wrangle over GST on daily use items

Protests have roiled Parliament, Centre says Oppn-ruled states agreed with the decision to tax pre-packed essential items

Opposition parties' MPs display banner and placards during a protest against inflation and decision to increase GST on essential commodities, near the Gandhi statue at Parliament complex, in New Delhi. (PTI)

The first four days of the ongoing Monsoon Session, which began on Monday, were marked by disruptions and protests, with the Opposition raising its voice over price rise, the Agnipath scheme, and the five per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on pre-packed essential items such as cereals, pulses, and dairy items such as milk and curd. The tax was not levied on the items previously.

The Opposition, from the Congress to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Left, have taken to social media and public meetings over the past few days to hit out at the government over the GST issue. The Rajya Sabha was adjourned on Friday, over Opposition protests on the issue, among others. On July 21, protests stalled proceedings in both the houses.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Thursday said the Opposition parties had only one “demand”, which was “discussion on inflation and increased GST on food items”.

Since the GST was introduced, the Congress has been calling it the “Gabbar Singh Tax”. In a tweet on July 20, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, “Recipe of ‘Gabbar’ for people struggling with inflation: Make less, eat less, quench hunger with the tadka of jumlas. The Prime Minister, who has listened to the untold words of ‘friends’, will now also have to listen to the public and withdraw this GST.”

The official Congress handle tweeted on Friday that there was zero tax on similar essential items during the rule of the United Progressive Alliance government that it led from 2004 to 2014. The party’s Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor retweeted a post on Thursday with a humorous take on the issue. The post, written in Hindi, said, “If I pay five per cent GST to buy milk and if it gets spoiled, will I get a refund? CA (Chartered Accountant): There would not be a refund but tax on the paneer that can be made from the milk.”

Joining a trending conversation on Twitter a day earlier about how a user could not afford paneer butter masala due to the hikes, Tharoor said: “I don’t know who comes up with these brilliant Whatsapp forwards but this one skewers the folly of the GST as few jokes have!”

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav tweeted in Hindi on Thursday, “Hail Lord Krishna! Just a month before Janmashtami, the BJP government has inflicted an injury on Krishna devotees by imposing GST on milk, curd, buttermilk.” Mentioning Hindi idioms containing the word “milk”, Akhilesh asked, “Will GST also be imposed on idioms and proverbs such as ‘doodh ka jala, chhach ko bhi’, ‘Doodh ka doodh’, ‘Doodho nahao’, ‘dahi jamna’?”

At the TMC Martyrs’ Day rally the same day, TMC chairperson and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee tore into the Union government on the issue. Calling it an “anti-people” move, she remarked, “What will people eat if the BJP implements GST on everything, including puffed rice and milk powder? They (BJP) have lost their mind. They imposed GST on sweets and lassi. The value of the Indian rupee is at its lowest. LPG prices are at an all-time high. How will the poor survive?”


The same day, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh told reporters in Indore, “From food items to landlords and tenants, GST has been imposed on everything. Only air remains out of this tax now.”

Questioning Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s claim that states ruled by non-BJP parties had agreed with the taxation decision, Kerala Finance Minister K Balagopal said on Thursday, “Tax should not be levied on items of common man … Our understanding was that only those big companies which are evading tax on the packaged essential commodities by misusing their brand names and registration will be taxed.”

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury issued a party statement calling for the hikes to be rolled back immediately on July 20. “We strongly condemn the latest round of unprecedented burdens imposed on the people through the GST hikes on all essential commodities such as pre-packaged rice, wheat, milk,” the party said.


The Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which has been protesting in Telangana against the hike, also deployed its social media team on the issue, coming up with graphics and memes taking digs at the BJP-led Centre. Telangana Information Technology minister KT Rama Rao, popularly known as KTR, shared these on Twitter.

A graphic, captioned “Should we eat rice?”, spoke of the current GST levied on rice (five per cent) and diamonds (1.5 per cent). The party also made a video in which a woman is seen giving back a packet of milk to a milk delivery boy after seeing the price rise. She says in Hindi, “The price of the packet has increased. You take the packet and give me the milk.”

In a Twitter thread explaining the process of how the GST council functions, Sitharaman said the GST increase was “the decision of the GST Council and no one member”. She added, “This was a unanimous decision by the GST Council. All states were present in GST Council when this issue was presented by the Group of Ministers on Rate Rationalisation in the 47th meeting held in Chandigarh on June 28, 2022.”

Union Minister Anurag Thakur also responded to the Opposition’s attacks and jibes, saying that non-BJP state governments “go to GST Council meeting and do not voice their concerns, but come here to protest and show placards”.

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(With inputs from PTI)

First published on: 22-07-2022 at 20:42 IST
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