India's tax reform held up by opposition

Congress party accuses Modi govt of using courts to run vendetta against Gandhi family

NEW DELHI • Leaders of India's opposition Congress party yesterday held hostage Prime Minister Narendra Modi's hopes of passing a crucial tax reform, as they accused his government of using the courts to run a "vendetta" against the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The government wants to introduce a nationwide goods and services tax to revive its stalled reform scheme. The tax would replace a host of state levies, raising hopes that it would lift investment by making it easier to do business in India's vast internal market.

Despite a large Lower House majority, Mr Modi needs the support of opposition parties to get the Bill through the Upper House.

Hopes were raised that the long- delayed legislation would see the light of day this year after Mr Modi met Congress president Sonia Gandhi last month and both parties showed signs of compromise.

But prospects of a compromise were cast in doubt on Monday, when a judge ruled that Mrs Gandhi and her son Rahul must appear in court on Dec 19 in a case brought by a member of Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Furious Congress members stormed the wells of both Houses of Parliament, alleging a "political vendetta" by Mr Modi who has moved to weaken the legacy of the Gandhis since he dislodged them from power last year.

"The GST Bill has gone for a sky walk," said a Congress deputy leader in the Upper House.

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty ruled India for most of its post-Independence era after 1947 and helped shape the country's institutions and self-identity. Detractors, including Mr Modi, accuse the family of retarding economic development with socialist policies.

The legal case brought by BJP member Subramanian Swamy alleges the Gandhis used US$13.5 million (S$19 million) of party funds to pay debts accrued by a newspaper business. The Gandhis deny any wrongdoing.

The Gandhis' lawyer, Mr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who is also a Congress spokesman, said they are willing to appear in court, but want more time. Calling the case an example of a political vendetta at its worst, he said: "The ruling party in power is using proxy litigation to attack senior Congress persons out of political malice."

Mr Babul Supriyo, a government minister, denied a vendetta, saying the Gandhis could approach the court to address their grievances. "Parliament needs to pass an important Bill like the GST. Instead of disrupting the House, they should cooperate," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2015, with the headline 'India's tax reform held up by opposition'. Print Edition | Subscribe