‘BJP not serious about implementing GST’

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on May 27, 2016

GHULAM NABI AZAD, Senior Congress leader

Sensing opportunity after the Congress’ loss of political clout in the recent Assembly polls, the BJP-led Central government is making a fresh bid to get the Constitutional amendment pertaining to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) passed. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said recently that most parties barring the Congress agree on the GST Bill. In an exclusive interview to BusinessLine, Congress MP and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad asserts that it is, in fact, the BJP that doesn’t want the crucial reform legislation to go through. Excerpts:

The Congress is steadily losing seats in the Rajya Sabha. Are you going to continue with the kind of intransigence you have so far displayed vis-à-vis the GST?

The Congress is not against the GST. We conceptualised and introduced this reform measure; we are the original architects of the Bill. For six long years , it was the present Prime Minister, in his capacity as Chief Minister of Gujarat, who kept saying that “GST nahin ayega (GST will not be allowed to come)”. We are relieved that good sense has dawned on the BJP and that they are now steering the course of this Bill. Now, we, as a responsible political party, want to ensure that a crucial legislation such as the GST is beneficial for industry as well as the consumer.

We have been recommending mainly three amendments: a cap on the GST rate at 18 per cent; inclusion of tobacco, electricity, alcohol and petrol under the regime, and removal of 1 per cent additional tax over and above the GST rate. We also wanted revenue for the states to be compensated.

To which part of these amendments would you attribute the term “intransigence”? The reality is that ever since the BJP gained majority in the Lok Sabha, they have decided to ignore the views of the Opposition. In the spirit of majoritarianism, which drives the BJP, they seem to believe that just like they issue a whip to their party MPs and they fall in line, the Opposition too should sign on the dotted line. India is still a democracy, isn’t it? We have a view, a serious and considered view, and we want it to be given due consideration and respect.

But the government has taken it seriously, a committee was formed…

We are talking about cooperation and mutual respect. These are not empty words. They toppled our government in Arunachal Pradesh just before the Budget Session. In the intervening period, they attempted to bring our government in Uttarakhand down. They conduct raids on our Chief Minister in Himachal Pradesh, slapped charges on our leaders, Chief Ministers. They try and demolish us politically, cut our feet and demand cooperation? This is not acceptable. Where is the spirit of cooperation when those in power arm-twist the Opposition? Obviously, the BJP does not really want to pass the GST when they are busy terrorising the Opposition.

Also, they have not learnt any lessons from history. The Janata government in 1977 convened a special session of Parliament and Indira Gandhi was arrested. The Shah Commission carried on…What happened? The people brought Indira ji back with a majority. I was General Secretary of the Youth Congress at the time. I have vivid memory of that period. Persecuting the Opposition doesn’t help.

The perception is that the Congress is isolated in the Rajya Sabha with powerful regional players like Mamata Banerjee openly backing the GST.

It would be difficult to isolate the Congress. Our allies in Bihar — the JD(U) and the RJD — do not support the GST. We also have an alliance in Tamil Nadu, and even the AIADMK is opposed to the GST. Then there is the NCP and the Left, who are even more opposed to the present form of this Bill.

There’s a fresh bid for the passage of the Bill. How hopeful are you?

Yes, they are going through the motions. But I don’t think that the BJP is serious about the GST. My information is that different components of the Sangh Parivar do not want the GST. They will claim that they pushed the Bill and will paint the Congress black for not supporting it. But look at their conduct in Parliament and outside. Does it look like a sincere bid to pass a Constitutional amendment?

Published on May 27, 2016

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