NEW DELHI : The Congress on Thursday decided to boycott the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rollout in Parliament on Friday, saying the country was "ill-prepared" for its implementation and that the Central Hall should not be used for such midnight functions. Announcing the decision, Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Ghulam Nabi Azad said such midnight sessions had only been held on three occasions related to the country's Independence.
The government was trivialising the freedom movement, they said.
Terming the government's decision to celebrate the GST rollout as a "publicity gimmick", the Congress leaders recalled that it was the current Prime Minister and then Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, who kept opposing and stalling the GST for seven years.
The Congress also described the celebrations as "Grand-Self Promoting Tamasha (GST)".
They pointed out that Prime Minister Modi was quiet on incidents of violence in different parts of the country and farmers were committing suicide.
The government was seeking to gain publicity for itself by holding a midnight function for the GST rollout, they added.
Azad said three midnight functions were held in the Central Hall -- in 1947, 1972 and 1997 -- to celebrate the landmark years of India's Independence.
"Probably for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the years 1947, 1972 and 1997 are not important as they did not take part in the freedom struggle. We understand the importance of Independence," Azad said.
Party leader Anand Sharma said that the "country is ill-prepared for roll out of GST".
He said the GST had been conceptualised by the Congress and the BJP had stalled its rollout for seven years.
"We repeatedly cautioned the government that it is not one nation-one tax, neither it is a perfect bill," Sharma said.
Azad also said that the second reason for the party's move to stay away from the function was related to the current situation in the country.
He cited a series of brutal killings of Dalits and weaker sections, farmers' suicides, violence against women, unemployment, fall in GDP, deteriorating internal and border security and the worsening situation in Jammu and Kashmir as reasons for the party's decision.
The party also questioned the silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and the government on these issues.
Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that the UPA brought so many legislations, like the Right to Information, Food Security Act, MNREGA and the Right to Education, but it never celebrated these events in the Central Hall.
"UPA brought so many legislations that benefited the people of the country, but we never celebrated in this manner. Taxation could be amended tomorrow. How can they celebrate this moment? They are doing it only for publicity, they are publicity masters," said Kharge.
Sharma said the Congress cannot be a party to such "tamasha" and "publicity gimmick".
"The PM and his government by convening this function in the Central Hall has insulted the very memory of India's freedom struggle and the sacrifices made during the movement. They are trivialising the freedom movement by equating it with the GST. This is not acceptable to us," said Sharma.
"We asked them what steps are they taking to help the small traders, as nobody is listening to them," he added.
Another Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said that celebration in the Central Hall was nothing but a "Grand-Self Promoting Tamasha (GST)".