New Delhi: Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh will not be at the high table in parliament's Central Hall when the mega reform Goods and Services Tax (GST) is launched at midnight on Friday. His party the Congress has said it is boycotting the event organised by the government.
- Congress is boycotting the GST event organised by the government
- Trinamool, Left, BSP, DMK also among parties not attending
- Opposition must display broad shoulders, says Finance Minister
The government has invited Dr Manmohan Singh and another former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal-Secular to share stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee at the launch. Mr Deve Gowda has confirmed he will attend.
The Congress fielded top parliamentarians Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma to announce the boycott today. Only thrice, the Congress leaders said, had a midnight session been convened in the Central Hall and always to celebrate India's Independence.
The Congress, they said, had brought in historic reforms but never celebrated them this way. "This midnight spectacle is ignoring harsh realities of society, intolerance, farmers issues which cannot be ignored. Congress cannot be party to such a tamasha (drama), publicity gimmick...we won't be party to publicity for a mere tax policy," Anand Sharma said.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the mega reform was brought to launch with unprecedented consensus building by the government among political parties and the opposition must now "display broad shoulders and own up this decision."
"The GST Council was a perfect experiment in a federal institution where 31 state governments and the centre together took hundreds of decisions and each one of them by consensus. There has never been this exercise of this kind of political consultations and political consensus in bringing the GST. Those who have been party to the consultation and decision-making process must also accept that this is not a decision of the central government but is equally a decision of the 31 states and Union Territories which have been party to this," the minister said.
He said he hoped "every political party will revisit and reconsider its decision and be a party to the launch of the massive reform."
Apart from the Congress, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has announced a boycott of the function. Other opposition parties like the Left, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Tamil Nadu party the DMK have also decided to stay away, sources said.
The parties have pointed to protests by textile traders this week to suggest that the government delay the launch, arguing that the country is not adequately prepared for the big change that the implementation of GST will entail.
The government, Arun Jaitley said today, "is committed to the GST as to any other reform process because we believe this is probably the single largest reform in India in 70 years." He said he was sure it would be of benefit to both economy and the country.
The launch of the new taxation system that is set to dramatically re-shape the country's over USD 2 trillion economy, is planned in the historic circular-shaped Central Hall of Parliament. The function will begin at 11 pm on Friday and a gong will be sounded at midnight to signal the arrival of GST. PM Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee will make addresses.
The GST Bill was originally piloted by President Mukherjee when he was finance minister in the Congress-led UPA regime.