Congress was a divided house on GST launch boycott

Leaders such as Chidambaram and Jyotiraditya Scindia did not want the party to boycott the GST launch. But the line of Sonia and Rahul prevailed.

It was not just several opposition parties, including friendly allies, which disagreed with Congress’ decision to not attend the midnight launch of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), but some of its own senior leaders also held divergent views, it is learnt.

But in the end, the line of the party’s top leadership prevailed.

Highly placed sources in the party said that the decision was essentially a call taken by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi despite senior leaders, including former union minister P. Chidambaram, not being in favour of the party boycotting the event.

The decision to not attend the special midnight session convened by the government was taken at a high level meeting attended by Sonia and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, among others. Rahul was not present in the meeting as he was abroad.

Chidambaram, a former finance minister, was in favour of the party attending the midnight session of Parliament, the sources said. His disagreement with the party’s decision to boycott was also a reason why he wasn’t on the stage with senior party colleagues Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and Anand Sharma when the decision was announced. Chidambaram felt GST was the party’s, and also his brainchild, and hence Congress representatives including him should be present at its formal launch.

Congress’ chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Jyotiraditya Scindia, was also uncomfortable with the party not being present for the event, the sources said. That not everybody in the party was on board with the decision to boycott the launch is evident by the tweets of younger leaders such as former MP Milind Deora. “In spite of GST’s unpreparedness & anxiety among traders & retailers, #GST will succeed & deliver over time. Congratulations India,” Deora tweeted on 30 June.

Essentially, a prominent strand of the Congress believed it should not disassociate itself from a historic event ushering in GST given this in fact has been the party’s baby and even in the Rajya Sabha, where the government struggles for numbers, the Congress finally enabled the passing of the bill.

However, the line pushed by Sonia which believed the government was implementing GST in haste without taking into account all considerations eventually prevailed. Sonia and Rahul are also believed to have been irked by the decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government decision to hold a midnight event akin to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s midnight speech on the eve of independence.

The government had wanted Manmohan Singh to also be present on the stage at the event but with the Congress choosing not to go, the idea had to be dropped. While opposition parties like the Left, Trinamool Congress and the DMK rallied behind the Congress’ decision to skip the event, others like the Nationalist Congress Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Samajwadi Party — all of whom are Congress allies in some capacity — chose to break ranks and attend.

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