Claiming victory for reduction of GST rates on more than 200 items, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said his party will continue the fight for capping the tax at 18 per cent and promised the Congress will do it if the BJP government fails.
Keeping up the attack on the government on the issue, Gandhi, who is on his fourth visit to Gujarat, said the decision to slash the GST on majority of the items was a good one. “It is good that the Congress party and the people of this country pressurised BJP to bring down many items from 28 per cent bracket to 18 per cent. However, we are not happy and we shall not stop. India does not need five different taxes but one tax. GST needs structural change.”
Earlier in a tweet, Gandhi said India needs a “simple” Goods and Services Tax, not a “Gabbar Singh tax”.
“Congress and people of the country fought to lower the 28 per cent GST rate on many items. Our struggle for 18 per cent cap will continue. If the BJP will not do this, Congress will do it,” Gandhi said.
In New Delhi, the Congress party demanded that petroleum products, real estate and electricity be brought under the tax’s ambit.
The party also said that “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Gabbar Singh Tax is shrewdly designed” to help his wealthy friends but hurts millions of small traders.
On Friday, the GST Council slashed the tax rates on 178 goods from 28 per cent to 18 per cent and reduced the rates on several other items.
Gandhi’s claim that the government was forced by the Congress to roll back the GST rates was criticised by the government with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman asking, “Is the GST Council under them?”
She also said the party should first finalise its stand on the tax regime.
“Congress wants to take credit on GST, and being in opposition they also want to say that government took action because of them. They should decide what is their position,” Sitharaman said at a press conference here.
“The GST Council was formed, and all state Finance Ministers are a part of it. The Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley) might be the chairman, but all states are there and their issues were raised. If someone was dissatisfied, we being a sensitive government were forthcoming in making changes. We did it for the people.”
“Now they are feeling the government has done everything, what is the role of opposition. So they are saying both things. Congress wants to be both good cop and bad cop. They should take a stand on it,” the Minister, who is campaigning in the state for the assembly elections, said.
Earlier, on his arrival at Ahmedabad airport, Gandhi said, “The people of Gujarat are unhappy with the present government, especially after the twin blows of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) implementation.”
The state goes to polls next month on December 9 and 14. Gandhi, who is visiting north Gujarat, the BJP bastion over the years, is on a three-day visit to the state.
Alpesh Thakore, leader of the Other Backward Castes (OBC), Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST), OSS Ekta Manch, who has been inducted in the grand old party’s Gujarat unit, is accompanying Gandhi during his visit.
Thakore said at a gathering in Prantij, “BJP will scare you, fool you. Then Modiji will come, cry for Gujarat pride. Don’t get carried away this time.”
At other places during his visit to the places in the region like Idar and Himmatnagar, Gandhi continued his attacks on Prime Minister Modi over Amit Shah’s son Jay’s company allegedly registering 16,000 times turnover in one year. He said, “Modiji Kuch Toh Boliye (Modiji, please say something).”
He said, “The government which can tell the people of the country at 8 p.m. that their currency will turn into scrap in just four hours, doesn’t know what’s in the hearts of the people. We gave Rs 35,000 crore for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Agency (MNREGA), but Modi gave Rs 35,000 crore to Tata Nano project.”
In the morning, Gandhi began his tour of north Gujarat by praying at the revered Akshardham temple, an unscheduled change in his plan, and visited the Patidar-dominated villages of the region.
The Congress also demanded that petroleum products, real estate and electricity be brought under the tax’s ambit.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in a statement that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke “post-truths” after the GST Council meeting on Friday while the will of the people did partially prevail “over the arrogance of the Modi government.”
“Persistent pressure built by the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party forced the GST Council and the BJP Government to reduce taxes on items of daily usage being taxed under the 28 per cent bracket. The political turmoil and widespread protests have made Modi Government extremely nervous and partially backtrack,” he said.
“But people of India, particularly shopkeepers, traders, MSMEs, are distressed with the lopsided architecture, design and implementation mechanism of Modi ji’s ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’,” he added.
The Congress, which has been demanding to constitutionally cap the Goods and Services Tax (GST) at a maximum of 18 per cent, said the Modi government was resorting to high taxation on petroleum products.
“If you keep electricity, petroleum, real estate out of the ambit of GST, 50 per cent of total revenue stays out of GST ambit. This means that the Modi government can continue to fill its coffers with Rs 2,67,000 crore annually by its back-breaking dose of taxation on petrol and diesel,” Surjewala said.
Seeking to reduce GST’s “compliance burden”, he said that complex process of form filing has brought businesses, trades and MSMEs to a grinding halt, “while GSTN continues to crash repeatedly”.
Figuring out the challenges being faced by textiles sector and agriculture sector, Surjewala said that “adjournment, deferment, rather than a decision, appear to be the ‘way forward’ for this government” and none of these challenges has been addressed by GST Council.
“This is owing to the sheer ineptitude and amateurish handling of the biggest tax reform by BJP government. As Finance Minister Jaitley and the Modi government pay lip service and create havoc, the Congress is determined to fight this battle for turning GST from flawed to flawless,” he said.