Congress vows to simplify GST as poll nears

NEW DELHI • India's main opposition Congress party will simplify the goods and services tax (GST) and take "rational economic decisions" to attract foreign investment if voted back to power in a general election due by May, its leader, Mr Rahul Gandhi, said last Saturday.

Launched in 2017, the GST was initially hailed as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's biggest economic reform as it replaced more than a dozen federal and state levies and unified the economy.

But its chaotic implementation and complexities, months after a shock ban by Mr Modi on high-value bank currency aimed at unearthing untaxed wealth, badly hurt small businesses and led to millions of job losses in the cash-driven economy, presenting the biggest challenge to Mr Modi's re-election chances.

Mr Gandhi, scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, said during a visit to Dubai that foreign investment was at a multi-year low in India due to the "ill-advised and badly thought out economic moves", such as the currency ban and a "poorly designed GST".

"We will take some rational economic decisions," he told a press conference, which was broadcast live on Twitter.

"We will restructure the GST and embrace investments from the Middle East and other parts of the world. We are the party of (India's economic) liberalisation, the party that gave the fastest economic growth in the first decade of the century and we will do that again."

He said his main priorities would be to create jobs, simplify the GST and rebuild confidence in institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India.

 
 
 

The Congress press conference was organised by the Indian Overseas Congress, which is present in about 35 countries, as Mr Gandhi tries to reach out to rich Indians living abroad for funds and social media support for the party that has dominated the country's politics for decades, before being nearly decimated in the last general election in 2014.

But back home, Mr Gandhi received a jolt when Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) announced an election tie-up without Congress in Uttar Pradesh state, which sends the highest number of lawmakers to the lower house of Parliament.

"The BSP and SP have made a political decision," he said. "It's on us on how to strengthen the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh and we will fight with our full capacity. Whether we do or their alliance does, the BJP is not winning there."

Mr Modi said at the Delhi convention that the opposition was working on a "desperate alliance", while the BJP would give a"strong government".

The Hindu nationalist BJP lost power in three key states recently, forcing the government to announce a flurry of measures to woo small businesses and the less well-off since then.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2019, with the headline 'Congress vows to simplify GST as poll nears'. Print Edition | Subscribe