Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said his party was ready to pass the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill if the National Democratic Alliance government accepted its demands. Describing the Congress as the party that originally initialised the Bill, the Gandhi scion said, “Congress wants that there should 18 per cent cap on GST rate, the constitution of dispute resolution mechanism and one per cent interstate tax be done away with. Let the government accept it, Congress will support the GST but without which the party will stick to its stand.” He added that the dispute resolution mechanism should be fair and transparent.
Gandhi, who was speaking to students of the NMIMS University in Mumbai on the second day of his two-day city visit, claimed that the problem in the passage of GST was internal opposition in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and added that GST needs huge infrastructure that needs to be created.
Gandhi, dressed in a grey T-shirt, blue jeans and sports shoes, replied to questions on a range of issues, including the growing importance of the RSS since the BJP came to power, the intolerance debate, the Pathankot attack and relations with Pakistan.
At the outset, Gandhi clarified it was the BJP’s strategy to block Parliament and that the Congress was in favour of its smooth functioning. He reminded the audience that the BJP had blocked Parliament when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power for a decade. He also pointed out how Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, had been at the forefront of the opposition to GST.
Coincidentally, even as tweets were being shared about the launch of the Start-up India programme by Modi in New Delhi, the NMIMS students were listening to Gandhi about how the environment needs to be made more conducive for the growth of start-ups in the country.
“I know how start-ups function; they need easy access to funds and free flow of information and movement. Start-ups need an eco system where free ideas can flow. The real challenge is to create an environment to ensure small businesses can grow,” Gandhi said. He added that start-up entrepreneurs are creative people, adding that intolerance and start-ups can’t go together.
On the handling of Pathankot attack, allegedly carried out by Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, Gandhi blamed the government for not properly consulting concerned institutions and the state machinery. “After 26/11, we isolated Pakistan diplomatically, but this government deals with them in an adhoc manner. The main issue is how do you respond. After Mumbai happened, the Government of India implemented and developed a strategy by constituting experts,” he said.
“You cannot have 100 per cent protection against terror attacks but you can react to them in a different manner.”
On the RSS and its say in the functioning of the government, Gandhi said the right wing organisation’s outlook is rigid as it views an individual based on religion and caste, and differentiates between man and woman.
However, he said the Congress party has flexible thinking; for them everyone is Indian. He also referred to the intolerance controversy, saying it was not a healthy sign for democracy.
On the present state of agriculture, particularly farmer distress, Gandhi attacked the Modi government for not doing enough to help them. “The present government is working for few businesses but (is) not serious about helping farmers and tackling the farm crisis,” he said.