Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday hit back at the government for blaming the main opposition party for blocking a nationwide goods and services tax (GST), billed as the country’s biggest tax reform initiative.
“We strongly believe in GST,” Gandhi said in Bengaluru. “But we want a cap, not an unlimited tax that is charged to our people.” Gandhi’s comments came a day after finance minister Arun Jaitley said acceding to some of the Congress’s demands, including capping the GST rate at 18% in the law itself, could distort the system.
“We want a GST that suits the country. We are ready to be talked to; not thrown away. We are not trying to stall Parliament for the sake of it,” Gandhi said a day before Parliament meets for its winter session.
The latest round of political brinkmanship has raised fresh questions over whether India’s most ambitious reform move to make the country a unified market is staring at further hurdles.
Gandhi obliquely hinted that the Congress was open to discussion for ironing out the rough edges on key policy initiatives, but felt Prime Minister Narendra Modi wasn’t willing to co-opt the opposition in major decision-making.
“Conversation is important; out of conversation comes a refined perspective. How can one person have all the answers? I want you all to be part of the decision-making process in the country. In the central government today I can say with certainty that there is only one person taking all the decisions,” he said.
“Who is one person to come and say, ‘Listen, I have a vision for you’?” Gandhi said at Mount Carmel in an apparent reference to Modi.
The Congress vice-president has in the past described the Modi-led government as “suit-boot ki sarkar”, implying that the regime is pro-big business at the cost of farmers and the poor.
“Suit-boot is failing completely. There are no jobs being created, the country is not moving,” he reiterated on Wednesday.
Senior NDA ministers have held discussions on the strategy for the upcoming winter session of Parliament with focus on the GST bill. Gandhi said the BJP had not reached out to the opposition.
“Our problem is the BJP doesn’t want to have a conversation. Democracy is about talking. It is not about only listening to what the government says. This is not the way to run a democracy. The approach has to be about reaching out,” Gandhi said.
On the issue of growing intolerance in the country, Gandhi said resorting to violence over cultural differences was unacceptable.
“It disturbs me when a young lady goes to a pub and is thrashed. This is not acceptable. That is something I will contest and fight against. We have FTII students being shut up and not being given a voice, no matter how long their strike goes on for,” he said.