Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi trained his guns on Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying he is surprised to see how swiftly public anger has grown against the BJP government at the Centre and in Maharashtra. He brought the deadlock on the BJP's ambitious indirect tax reform - the GST bill, back into focus saying the Congress will not relent unless the ruling party accepts its demands for tweaks in the proposed legislation. Rahul Gandhi is in Mumbai as part of a two day tour out west.
"Normally, whenever a government is voted to power, they remain popular for a while, their credibility remains for three to four years. However, I am surprised as to how soon the BJP's credibility has fallen both at the Centre and in the state," Gandhi said.
"Modiji has spoken about a smart city, Mumbai has also been included in the smart city list. However, they allocated only Rs 100 crore for Mumbai when the budget for Mumbai is worth thousands of crores. When you speak of smart city and just give Rs 100 crore to Mumbai then your (Modi's) credibility will go down."
Gandhi said the Congress has three conditions on GST: A cap on the rate of GST at less than 20%, scrapping a proposed state levy and creating an independent mechanism to resolve disputes on revenue sharing between states.
Gandhi said Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam would not be removed from his post following the controversy over publishing anti-Nehru articles in the party mouthpiece.
"Stop being Narad Muni", Cong tells Jaitley
Gandhi's strident tone on GST comes within days of Jairam Ramesh hitting out at Jaitley over the same hot button.
Invoking mythology, Congress spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh hammered away at Finance Minister Arun Jaitley saying “Stop being Narad Muni and start being finance minister" in response to the minister's criticism of the party's top leadership for delay in passing the ambitious indirect tax reform - the GST bill.
Jaitley is determined to try once again in the Budget session but before that, he singled out the Congress top leadership from its mid level team saying it's the cream of the party that is the problem and not the rest of them. Ramesh accused the finance minister of attempting to drive a wedge between the Congress and its leadership. Sharpening knives ahead of the upcoming Budget session, Ramesh said Jaitley has “lost complete command and control over the economic situation”.
India's best selling writer on mythology explains the context of invoking Narad Muni, also referred to as Narada: "To understand Narada, one has to understand the quarrels that he ignites. Quarrel follows after he compares and contrasts one thing with another. He tells one dancer that the other dancer is more beautiful, far more skilled, and accomplished that she is. This comparison invariably ignites a quarrel. Narada propels many a mythic plot by making people feel inadequate, insecure and jealous through his conversations," he writes in a Mid Day column Here comes Narada.
“Instead of being finance minister, Jaitley is being Narad Muni. He should stop being Narad Muni and start being finance minister,” Ramesh told reporters at a Congress party briefing.
Ramesh insisted that there is no difference of opinion between the Congress party and its leadership. “The finance minister is hallucinating that the Congress leadership and the Congress are two separate animals.”
Pouncing on the other Jaitley headlines --notably DDCA, Ramesh said Jaitley is “distracted and preoccupied” with fighting a battle to restore his credibility after the serious allegations made against him in the DDCA scandal. “Between a Prime Minister who is more focussed on a shameless personal PR campaign and an FM unable to give the requisite direction, the economy has been in a free fall,” he said.
Senior party spokesperson Anand Sharma had on Tuesday rejected Jaitley’s criticism of the party for disruptions in Parliament, telling the government that there cannot be a constructive engagement with the main opposition party by “targeting, blaming and insulting” its leadership.
Detailing “some worrying statistics” showing “disastrous” track record of the government, Ramesh said “growth is flat, exports are down, inflation is high, investment is down, industrial production at historic lows and this despite a revenue windfall caused by record low prices of crude oil”.
Taking a dig at Modi, he said, “The rupee has, on his watch, fallen past the ages of the current Prime Minister and finance minister. At the rate at which it is going, we won’t be surprised if it crosses the ages of the veterans he has retired to the BJP’s Margdarshak Mandal.”
The former Union minister said, “Exports have been falling consistently for the past 13 months. The consumer price index was at its highest in 15 months, and the exchange rate has fallen to 66 to the dollar. It has, in fact, fallen to a number that exceeds the ages of the prime minister and finance minister,” said Ramesh.
Ramesh said the Natonal Democratic Alliance government’s faulty policies had aggravated rural distress, and rural demand continued to be weak.
The cumulative effect of all this, he added, was economic stagnation, low employment and a declining rupee. He said, “No Government in India in the past 35 years has got such a bonanza of declining oil prices. The full benefits of this fall have not been passed on to consumers."
Jaitley singles out Congress leadership for GST logjam
Singling out top Congress leadership for stalling the goods and services tax (GST) Bill, finance minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday said some people get “sadistic pleasure” in obstruction, as most of the party’s second-rung leaders are supportive of the key tax reform legislation.
“It is obvious that not allowing the GST Bill to pass is giving some people a sadistic pleasure. But then, democracy has its own strengths, the last laugh is the best one,” he said at the ET Corporate Excellence Awards in Mumbai Saturday evening.
“When I speak to the mid-command of the party, I come back with a sense of optimism and when I meet them just before Parliament is about to commence, every morning I think the high command prevails over the mid-command.
“The problem is not with our politics, the problem is only with a few individuals,” Jaitley told an audience comprising the who’s who of Indian industry. Multiple times he made references to many leaders within the main Congress being supportive of the GST Bill, and also questioned why his predecessors P. Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee did not think twice before introducing and pushing the Bill with a legal cap on the peak GST rate.
Stating that everybody, including regional parties and even United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies like the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Janata Dal United are supporting the Bill, Jaitley said there is a “complete coalition” of those in support but only one party (the Congress) is the naysayer.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill to roll out the GST is stuck in the Rajya Sabha because of the stiff opposition by the Congress as the ruling National Democratic Alliance does not have enough numbers there. Jaitley called the Upper House, in which he also is a member, as the “last bastion of obstruction”.
He specifically mentioned the issue of tariffs which has become a bone of contention, saying it cannot be defined in the Constitution and warned that if we do it, a Constitutional amendment will have to be moved every time a natural disaster results in a change of the tariffs.
Jaitley also lauded the work done by Chidambaram during his tenure at North Block on resolving any possible issues between the Centre and states in the GST regime. Without going into details, his ministerial colleague at the power ministry, Piyush Goyal said if Congress continues to stall the passage of the Bill, there will be a few “tricks” under the finance minister’s sleeves to ask them to follow suit which cannot be revealed now.
"Deception, double talk"
After calling the Venkaiah Naidu meeting with Sonia Gandhi an attempt to submerge detailing with optics, Congress on Friday blamed the BJP for creating a “false smokescreen” on the goods and services tax bill (GST). Congress insists that it is the RSS and Swadeshi Jagran Manch that have been holding up the legislation which is widely seen as an acid test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's liberalizing credentials.
The Indian Express reports that the party whipped out speeches of Gujarat Finance Minister Saurabh Patel before the Empowered Committee of Finance Ministers, which looked into the GST, to argue that the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government had stonewalled the legislation.
“Deception, deceit and double-speak have become hallmarks of the Modi government vis-à-vis implementation of GST as also other economic reforms. The BJP government, including Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, has been putting up a false smokescreen by accusing Congress of obstructing GST, while the real truth is that GST stands consistently red-flagged for last nine years by RSS and Swadeshi Jagran Manch,” Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil said, reports The Indian Express.
“Modi and the BJP government are now camouflaging paralysis of governance and failure of leadership over the last 19 months to misguide people by stating that current day grave economic crisis as also deflation of economy is happening because of non-passage of the GST,” Gohil said. “The government has no interest in passing the GST Bill. It is interested only in doing politics on GST,” he said.
GST is not being passed because BJP & PM Modi do not want it. BJP is deceiving people: Jairam Ramesh, Congress pic.twitter.com/XIeOgwbaEA
— ANI (@ANI_news) January 9, 2016
"Butter up opponents, Mr Modi"
In its latest issue, the Economist argues that Modi will do well to dump the NRI crowd for a bit and deal with issues closer home. "If Modi is to secure any economic legacy, he may now have to spend more time on the art of buttering up opponents at home rather than fellow leaders abroad," says the London based newspaper in its GST story titled: One country but no single market.
Congress rebuffs suggestions of breakthrough
The Congress party on Thursday rebuffed suggestions of a breakthrough on a landmark tax reform, hours after the government said it had accepted the demands set by the main opposition party to back the measure.
The proposed goods and services tax (GST), India's biggest revenue shake-up since independence in 1947, seeks to replace a slew of federal and state levies, transforming the nation of 1.2 billion people into a customs union.
Supporters say the new sales tax will add up to two percentage points to the South Asian nation's economic growth.
The Congress party, the original author of the tax reform, has opposed what it calls the "flawed" version now before parliament, where it has been able to block a key constitutional enabling amendment in the Rajya Sabha.
How does the existing system work?
Taxes production more than consumption
Subsidises importers, hurts domestic producers.
Trade between states is taxed, through a central sales tax of 2%.
Some states impose duties on products entering from elsewhere in India.
What does Chief Economic Advisor’s report say?
Scrap the central sales tax and set two bands for the GST - a standard rate of 17-18% and a lower 12% rate for sensitive goods.
Alcohol as well as property transactions should be subject to the GST. In return, states could levy “sin taxes” on things like alcohol and tobacco of up to 40%.
Congress remains combative
"The government is using optics of meetings and is not serious about GST," senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal told reporters.
His comments came after Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu said the government had agreed to accept the opposition party's demands.
Naidu also said the government was willing to bring forward the next parliament session to pass the proposed goods and services tax (GST) bill if Congress backed the measure.
The minister met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Thursday to convey the government's decision. Gandhi did not assure him of her party's support, however.
"Sonia said they (Congress) will discuss among themselves and take a final decision," Naidu said.
“We had invited Soniaji and Manmohan Singhji and discussed with them the GST and other bills. In the same context, as the Parliamentary Affairs Minister of the government, I met the Congress president and recalled to her that as per the discussion held earlier, the Congress should finalise its stand. They had raised some issues, which were answered by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Since the government had already spoken to Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and the Deputy Leader of the Congress in the House Anand Sharma in this regard, I reminded her that a quick decision should be taken and we should move forward immediately on the GST and the real estate bill,” Venkaiah Naidu said.
But Sibal said the party was still waiting for written proposals from the government.
Congress wants the government to cap the GST rate at less than 20 percent, scrap a proposed state levy and create an independent mechanism to resolve disputes on revenue sharing between states.
The political slugfest between the two sides has ensured that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's self-imposed deadline of April 1 for the GST's launch will be missed.
While Jaitley has yet to set a new date for the rollout, aides say passage of the constitutional amendment bill in February's budget session of parliament would allow them to implement it by October.
Yet even that deadline, which would fall in the middle of the tax year, appears optimistic, say economists.
"There is still a substantive legislative process that has to be completed," said Aditi Nayar, an economist at ICRA, the Indian arm of rating agency Moody's.