‘Equating GST event to independence was objectionable’

Neelu Vyas

After the historic GST rollout in a candid interview to Rajya Sabha TV senior Congress leader and former Environment minister during UPA rule, Jairam Ramesh came down heavily on the midnight launch of the Goods and Services Tax inside the Central hall of parliament saying that the effort to equate the event with the independence of India was objectionable.

He called GST in the present form as a grand selfie tamsha.

Ramesh clarified that Congress was in favour of GST but slammed the government for the hurried launch of the unified tax regime saying that the coming monsoon session the party and the opposition will focus on the laxities in implementation of the GST.

Speaking on the presidential election strategy of the opposition, Ramesh admitted to Bihar Chief minister’s suggestion that Opposition needs to come up with a constructive agenda but when asked why Rahul Gandhi couldn’t come up with a robust idea, he was dismissive. Targeting the media for making presidential election 2017 into a contest of caste, Ramesh said it was unfortunate that media didn’t focus on the meritocracy.

Former environment minister said questions on 2019 electoral battle were hypothetical and opposition has another two years to firm up the ammunition.

Here are the excerpts of the interview given to RAJYA SABHA TV ANCHOR NEELU VYAS FOR THE PROGRAM TO THE POINT

1: Let me begin by asking you about congress boycotting the midnight GST launch

A: Congress’ opposition is only because of the midnight session of parliament in the central hall. It is Congress who took the idea of GST forward in 2004. It was Congress who first prepared the GST in 2011. Congress consistently said the need for GST.

We need an uncomplicated GST. It is a major step ahead for reforms. We have now got into the GST era. There will be transition problem and it should be overcome through debates and discussions. We want GST and want it to succeed. Not directly as we are not in power but we are in power in few states.

Our problem was that midnight session was held at night; previously it took place three times, 1947, 1972 & 1997.

This attempt to equate the launch of GST with the independence of India, that’s what we are opposed to. Even Mr Nitish Kumar sent his party people to the launch; even he opposed the idea of midnight session. However, I mentioned that the launch of GST is major step forward to progress.

2: Many people we spoke to on that day, they said that congress was feeling bad because bjp tried to appropriate their idea…

A: No question of appropriating. After all, from 2004 to 2014, GST was opposed by Mr Modi. There were two CMs who opposed the GST, the CM of Gujarat and CM of MP. When Pranab Mukherjee was FM, he introduced the GST bill on March 22, 2011.

The standing committee chaired by Mr Yashwant Sinha, former FM of BJP, only submitted his reports on August, 2013. It was BJP who delayed the introduction of GST. Most specifically the PM who was then the CM of Gujarat. This is all a part of history now.

Congress had heavily contributed to GST and past three years BJP has took forward the work of GST, it is a collective enterprise. In parliament I have mentioned it is a collective enterprise. Our main problem was the midnight session.

3: Every member present on the launch was invited by individual letters addressing them and not addressing their party… how far is it appropriate

A: Why they didn’t have a full day session on GST? Congress would have gladly participated. Why not having two days for GST session? We would have gladly participated on 29th and 30th June for GST to launch on 1st July or 30th itself.

We have actively participated by introducing five suggestions to the existing GST bill. My Arun Jaitley gladly accepted some of the changes we have suggested. Some of them he didn’t.

I believe the entire midnight GST launch session was a grand selfie thamsha. It is very serious issue and needn’t be trivialised. Focus should be more on GST, implementation, problems of small industries, problems of unorganised sector, mediums of textile industry; we should understand that in every major change there is a problem of transition.

4: There was also question arising on PM inaugurating GST in the presence of Pranab Mukherjee…

A: Pranab Mukherjee was finance minister so he knows about this drama. Lets us not focus on this things. There are differences in ideas within the Congress party a well.  There were many who said that the Congress had brought in Right to Information act which is revolutionary.

Congress had launched many symbolic things than the GST today. But we never called a midnight session for it. So we didn’t attend the session but we remain focused on constantly supporting the GST from outside and look forward with it. We will be focusing more on people related issues regarding the GST.

5: Rahul Gandhi and many senior leaders have pointed out the facts that the government implemented the GST in a hurry, more planning was needed…

A: Even CM of West Bengal was strongly in favour of GST, Amit Mitra was the chairman of the empowered committee of finance ministers, even they were asking for few months more, even Mr Chidambaram was asking for some months more, heavens wouldn’t have fallen if some more time was given to it.

It’s all about water under the bridge. Now we have got into the GST era so let us make it a success. We need a good and simple tax. GST in theory is revolutionary, in practicality it is not. It is a first step; it is a beginning of a long journey. And in this journey, all the political parties should be together.

6: When demonetisation occurred, the opposition pounced on it as some sought of a political opportunity for them….

A: I still believe that demonetisation is the political winner for the PM; it was economic disaster for India. There is no economic demonetisation logic in India today. There were some political factors, social factors.

People thinking that good these guys with black money will be caught. Out of 15.44 laky crores, after demonetisation, everything has eventually it come back to the government. So there is no black money. Economical idea of demonetisation is highly dubious.