Dealt with a major blow following Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s snub to its plans of fielding a united front against the Bharatiya Janata Party in the upcoming presidential elections, opposition parties are now considering a boycott of the government’s midnight launch of the Goods and Services Tax at a special session of the Parliament on June 30. Congress is yet to take a final call on attending the special session at the Central Hall of Parliament and a decision to this effect may be taken tomorrow.
The government has planned a mega event to mark the launch of the GST, pegged as the biggest tax reform for India. The event, which will see the new tax regime implemented at the stroke of midnight, will have the President, Vice President, Lok Sabha Speaker and parliamentarians in attendance. In its bid to ensure a smooth rollout, the government has sent special invitations to former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and HD Deve Gowda. The invite to Singh, Time of India reported yesterday, was delivered personally by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
The Congress, however, faces quite a dilemma – on two fronts actually. First, it has always claimed the GST to be its own brainchild. It is a fact that the GST Bill was introduced when the UPA was in power, though it was passed with a few changes after the Narendra Modi government came to power. By abstaining from the launch event, the Congress would risk its own narrative of the NDA only carrying forward its idea. Secondly, the event will mark the presence of former senior party leaders including President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari. Staying away from this event may come across as an insult to them, some feel.
On its part, the government has sent invitations to all Members of Parliament to grace the event with their presence. The government reaching out to the opposition is being viewed as a gesture aimed at ensuring that it does not face criticism like it did following demonetiation. The November 8 decision saw no attempt by the government to consult the opposition, particularly the Congress. This resulted in aggressive opposition to the move by non-NDA parties, the sharpest among them from Manmohan Singh.
Addressing the Parliament, Singh described the government’s demonetisation decision as ‘organized loot and legalised plunder’. In his Rajya Sabha speech, he said, "The decision to demonetise will cause grievous injury to the honest Indian who earns wages in cash. The dishonest black money hoarder will get away with a mere rap on the knuckles." The special invitation to Singh by FM Jaitley is thus an attempt to get the Congress onboard with the GST launch.
Media reports have claimed that there is intense lobbying within the ranks of the opposition to push the government to a corner over what they term as a ‘hurried’ implementation of the GST. With just two days left for the launch, leaders of the Congress, Left, NCP, Samajwadi Party, and RJD among others, are expected to confer with each other on whether to attend the session.