- Historic tax reform GST to be launched at midnight
- Special function in parliament, opposition parties are boycotting
- Lalu Yadav says his party won't attend, Nitish Kumar's party will
Nitish Kumar's office says he has backed GST as an essential reform all along including when it was first pitched during the previous Congress-led government of Dr Manmohan Singh.
Several opposition parties have decided that in a mark of protest, they will skip the function which will be marked by speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee. Mr Modi's predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, was invited to share the stage with the premier, but his Congress party has said it will not show up.
The Goods and Services Tax or GST is a national sales tax that replaces a jumble of central and state levies. The opposition says that businesses are not ready to deal with the biggest-ever tax reform and that the government should have agreed to delay the rollout. The Congress also says that the government is turning the midnight event into an unbecoming pat on its back and that midnight sessions should be held, in keeping with tradition, only to commemorate India's independence.
In differing with the opposition and backing the government, Nitish Kumar is providing a sequel to his headline-stealing decision earlier this month on the issue of who to support in the election for President of India. He chose rival BJP, against whom he pitched a united opposition bloc in April. 17 parties came together, led by the Congress. Before they could announce their candidate, the Bihar Chief Minister said he was content with the BJP's.
That announcement led to Nitish Kumar's allies, the Congress and Lalu Yadav, berating him for a historic blunder and for abandoning his principles. Unperturbed, Nitish Kumar pointed out that the BJP has raked in enough support from allies and regional parties to easily win the July 17 election.
Though Lalu Yadav and he have both declared that their partnership is not in jeopardy, the Chief Minister has over recent months made what were read as overtures to the BJP. In 2013, their 17-year collaboration ended with Nitish Kumar objecting to the BJP's decision to promote Mr Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. When PM Modi announced his shock ban on high-denomination notes in November, Nitish Kumar was the lone opposition major to back the move. At the time, his aides said that he read the mood of the rural poor as widely supportive of the PM and demonetisation. His gambit paid off when PM Modi won Uttar Pradesh for his party with record numbers - the election had been pitched as the biggest public test of his outlawing of currency that amounted to 86% of the cash in circulation.
His critics say that Nitish Kumar is rebooting his relationship with the BJP ahead of the general election in 2019 because he knows the PM will be a tough candidate to beat. He has said he remains committed to the anti-BJP front.