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Sonia Meets Manmohan, Cong Unlikely to Attend GST Launch in Parliament

A day before the government’s midnight rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Congress chief Sonia Gandhi met former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh early on Thursday.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18pallavighcnnibn

Updated:June 29, 2017, 2:44 PM IST
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Sonia Meets Manmohan, Cong Unlikely to Attend GST Launch in Parliament
The party is expected to hold a press conference at 4pm, which will cement whether the party will join the rollout proceedings or become the second party after Trinamool Congress to boycott the mega launch. (File photo/PTI)
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New Delhi: A day before the government’s midnight rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Congress chief Sonia Gandhi met former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh early on Thursday. “The meeting is to discuss whether we should be attending the GST rollout or not,” said Gandhi, mincing no words.

Sources in the party told CNN-News18 that it was unlikely to attend the session. The party is expected to hold a press conference at 4pm, which will cement whether the party will join the rollout proceedings or become the second party after Trinamool Congress to boycott the mega launch.

While TMC chief Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that she does not support the plan and her party will not attend the midnight rollout, Congress is still in two minds over its participation. It is imperative here to note that Singh has previously claimed credit for GST and had lamented over the fact that opposition from the saffron party had prevented a rollout during the UPA regime.

ALSO READ | E-Commerce, Real Estate, Telecom: How the GST Will Impact Key Sectors

The BJP, which is now in power, has, however, gone ahead and extended an olive branch in the form of a personal invite from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to the former PM. But is the personal invite enough for Singh to make up his mind and swing in the direction of the ruling party?

The former PM has previously crossed over party lines to make his point clear. One such instance was during the parliamentary committee meeting during discussions on demonetisation last year. While most opposition leaders, including many from Congress, wanted to quiz Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Urjit Patel over the move, it was Singh who had stepped in and said that it was important to respect autonomous institutions and decisions made by them. The party was upset but the former PM had still gone ahead and made his point, crystal clear.

Will the GST rollout see a repeat of what happened then? Sources close to Singh told CNN-News18 that he was yet to make his mind, but was going to hear his party out before taking a call. The meeting with Sonia Gandhi looks like one which would define which way the former PM would go.

ALSO READ | Mamata First Oppn Leader to Pull Out of Midnight Parliament Session on GST

The dilemma over attending the midnight launch doesn’t end with Singh’s participation. Congress has always maintained that GST, among other policies launched by the NDA government, was their baby. Hence, skipping the launch of your own ‘dream project’ would make the party the weaker side. There are many in the political spectrum who strongly feel the party can come out stronger if it attended the midnight launch and then claimed credit for the policy.

If the Congress does attend the rollout, does it throw opposition unity into an imbalance? Politics, many say, is based on perception. Taking into account the fact that opposition parties, excluding TMC, have not voiced their support or dissent against the rollout, Congress is struggling to find a common ground. Upsetting the opposition, whether by attending the launch or abstaining from it, will further weaken an already dwindling image of the opposition in the country. A close aide of the Congress supremo, however, told CNN-News18 that perception has played spoilsport for them before. “It was this perception that made us oppose demonetization. We lost the plot then. This time, if we continue to go by the same thought process, we might lose again. The party is going to have to carefully figure out a way to go about this,” said the aide.

In a stark reminder of India’s tryst with destiny on August 15, 1947, the historic Central Hall of Parliament, on June 30, will host the midnight launch of GST, the new taxation system which is set to re-shape the over $2 trillion Indian economy.
| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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