GST rollout: Congress has decided not to attend the midnight launch of Goods and Services Tax in Parliament tomorrow. The Congress decision, however, is surprising as the GST is considered to be the brainchild of the party. The GST Bill had come for consideration in the Parliament for the first time during Congress-led UPA government. The Bill was opposed by the BJP then and the Congress rightly accused the BJP of backtracking from its original stand for pushing GST when it came to power.
Last year, when the GST Act was passed in the Rajya Sabha, Congress MP from Rajasthan Narendra Budania had said the BJP protested against GST when the Congress brought the Bill to the Parliament. The Congress even asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to apologise to the nation for his “U-turn” on GST Bill. Several BJP allies including Shiv Sena MP Anil Desai and Shiromani Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral had then hailed the GST Bill as the “brainchild” of Manmohan Singh.
The GST was first conceptualised during the then BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000. Vajpayee had set up a committee headed by then West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta of the CPI-M to design a GST model. The Dasgupta committee was also asked to put in place the required back-end technology and logistics for the implementation of the GST across the country. Again in 2003, Vajpayee government had formed Vijay Kelkar committee to recommend tax reforms.
In the 2005 Budget, then Finance Minister P Chidambaram had talked about the need to move to the GST regime. In 2006, Chidambaram had set the 2010 deadline for GST rollout. The GST Bill was tabled by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is now the President, in Parliament for the first time in 2011. This was opposed by the BJP along with the Left. For around three years, the Congress battled the GST debate against the BJP and other parties in and outside the Parliament. Interestingly, Modi had also opposed the GST as the then Gujarat CM in 2013.
In the last one year, Congress-BJP relation has apparently gone from bad to worse. The Grand Old Party now appears to be in no mood to give any credit to the Modi government. However, the way it has decided to do so may not prove politically fruitful in the long run.
GST Act was approved by the Parliament unanimously last year. Since the, all states of the countries have participated in discussions on tax slabs and implementation of the path-breaking tax law.
Modi government had invited Singh and another former PM, HD Devegowda, to share the stage with PM Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee during the midnight launch. With Congress’ short-sighted decision, Singh would miss the chance to see-through the historic launch of GST. Ironically, Singh had not only pushed for the GST when he was in power but also helped BJP to do so by setting up a meeting between PM Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in November 2015.
The GST glory was all for the Congress to corner. But by deciding to skip the meeting, the Congress appears to have scored a self-goal. That too when the Congress keeps accusing Modi government of taking credit of schemes originally introduced by the UPA government.