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Congress on the Backfoot over Sam Pitroda Comment on Inheritance Tax

Congress on the Backfoot over Sam Pitroda Comment on Inheritance Tax

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 24: An off-the-cuff remarks by the former Congress advisor Sam Pitroda about inheritance tax in the United States has put the Congress on the defensive with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi telling the voters that they would lose their wealth if they voted the Congress to power and the Congress trying to claw back claiming that the BJP was nervous and was trying to pick holes seeing the Congress party’s “revolutionary manifesto.”

In a stunning self-goal pushing the Congress on the backfoot, Mr Pitroda added fuel to the fire the Congress was trying to douse after Mr Modi attacked the Congress manifesto claiming that it promised “redistribution of wealth” among the minorities. In an interview Mr Pitroda, who was the telecommunication advisor to the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, gave example of inheritance tax in the US and suggested sooner or later India also need to contemplate on the issue.

Even though the Congress attempted to distance itself from Mr Pitroda’s comment saying that the party did not share his views on inheritance tax, Mr Modi did not need another invitation to launch a frontal attack on the Congress. Addressing a rally at Surguja in Chhattisgarh on Wednesday, Mr Modi alleged the Opposition party was planning to tax inheritance passed down from parents to their children.

Mr Modi said the Congress’s “dangerous intentions are coming out in the open.” Referring to Mr Pitroda, he said, “The advisor of the prince of the Congress royal family had earlier said the middle class should be taxed more. Now they have gone further ahead. Now the Congress is saying that it will impose an Inheritance Tax and tax the inheritance received by people from their parents.”

“The wealth you accumulate with your hard work won’t pass down to your children. The Congress’s hand will snatch it. The Congress’s mantra is ‘loot during your lifetime, loot after your death’,” the Prime Minister said, taking a cue from Life Insurance Corporation’s famous tagline, “zindagi ke saath bhi, zindagi ke baad bhi.”  “As long as you live, Congress’s high taxation will make you suffer. When you are dead, they will put the burden of inheritance tax,” he said.

The Congress distanced itself from the senior leader’s remarks and said they do not reflect the party’s position. Congress’s Jairam Ramesh said in a social media message that “sensationalising” Mr Pitroda’s comments was aimed at “diverting attention” from the Modi government’s failures and was in keeping with the Prime Minister’s “malicious and mischievous election campaign.”

Mr Pitroda, too, came out and said he made the remarks as an individual. He said it was unfortunate that the comments were twisted “to divert attention from what lies PM is spreading about Congress manifesto.” “I mentioned inheritance tax in the US only as an example in my normal conversation on TV. Can I not mention facts? I said these are the kind of issues people will have to discuss and debate. This has nothing to do with policy of any party, including Congress,” he said. “Who said 55% will be taken away? Who said something like this should be done in India? Why is BJP and media in panic?”

Mr Pitroda spoke to a news agency on the Prime Minister’s attacks on the Congress manifesto and his allegations of a wealth redistribution plan. The manifesto called for a nationwide socio-economic and caste Census to provide the data foundation for affirmative action. It does not, however, mention any wealth redistribution plan.

Mr Pitroda, chairman of Indian Overseas Congress, said the Prime Minister thinks that the Indian audience was a fool and can be manipulated easily. “No Prime Minister would speak like this. Earlier I thought it was an AI-generated video. PM thinks the Indian audience is a fool and can be manipulated. He is not above the law. The manifesto of Congress is very well-drafted. To say that they will steal your gold and Mangalsutra. You are making stories up on your own. I think it is maybe due to fear, panic has been set in after the first phase. India is angry at the PM’s comment,” he said.

The Congress, he said, has always focused on the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, whether they are OBCs, Muslims, Dalits or tribals. “Billionaires don’t need our help. It is the poor people who need our help. Inequality has substantially increased in the last 10 years,” he said. “This doesn’t mean that you are going to take your wealth and give it to somebody. This means to create new policies so that the concentration of wealth can be prevented. It’s like a Monopoly Act,” he said.

He then cited a US example. “In America, there is an inheritance tax. If one has 100 million USD worth of wealth and when he dies he can only transfer probably 45 per cent to his children, 55 per cent is grabbed by the government. That’s an interesting law. It says you in your generation, made wealth and you are leaving now, you must leave your wealth for the public, not all of it, half of it, which to me sounds fair,” he said.

It is worth pointing out that the US does not have a federal inheritance tax. In some states, such as Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, inherited assets are taxed. The payable tax depends on the amount of the inheritance and the relationship to the dead. This tax is only applied above a certain threshold and can go up to nearly 20 per cent of the inheritance.

In a counter-attack on Mr Modi, the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi claimed that the Prime Minister had “panicked” at the Congress party’s “revolutionary manifesto.” “So did you like the Congress manifesto? You must have seen that the Prime Minister has panicked. It is a revolutionary manifesto,” Mr Gandhi said while speaking at Social Justice conclave organised by the Congress in Delhi.

Mr Gandhi alleged that Narendra Modi Government at the Centre transferred crores of rupees to the few billionaires and said the Congress manifesto talked about returning a small amount of that money to the people who are at the bottom pyramid of income and wealth distribution. “There is mention of x-ray [caste census] and income inequality created by Modi ji. The Congress will return a small amount of money to 90% of the people of the country from the ₹16 lakh crore given to the 22 people by Narendra Modi,” he said.

His comment was in the backdrop of Prime Minister Modi’s criticism that the Congress manifesto smacks of appeasement and that if it came to power, it would redistribute people’s wealth and also give reservations to Muslims from the quota for SC, ST, and OCB communities.

Mr Gandhi claimed that there is no one from Other Backward Classes community in the India’s rich people’s list. “Prime Minister Modi has been saying for the ten years that he is an OBC but when I talked about caste census, Modi said that there is no caste. If there is no caste how are you OBC. Then he said that in India there is only two castes poor and rich. All right if you agree that there are rich and poor people in India, then bring out the lists of poor and rich in India. Then you will find OBCs and Dalits, Adivasis in poor people’s list, and see no Dalits, Adivasis and backwards in the rich list,” he said.

He said that ensuring social justice to the 90% of Indians who are at the bottom of the pyramid was his life mission and there was no compromise on it. “Caste census is not politics for me, it is my life’s mission, and I will not leave it. No power can stop the caste census. As soon as the Congress Government comes, we will first conduct caste census. This is my guarantee,” Mr Gandhi said.

In no mood to miss a full toss during election season, the BJP used Mr Pitroda’s remarks to double down on their charge at the Congress. Leading the attack, the union home minister Amit Shah urged people to take Mr Pitroda’s remarks seriously. “Their hidden plans have come out in the open. People should take note. And the Congress must withdraw the mention of survey from its manifesto,” he said. “Our priority is not the minorities. Our priority is the poor, Dalits, tribals and backward sections,” he added.

Assam Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma shared a video of the interview with the post, “Family Advisor is spilling the beans – their intention is ‘organised loot and legalised plunder’ of your hard-earned money.”

Amit Malviya, who heads the BJP’s IT cell, posted, “Congress has decided to destroy India. Now, Sam Pitroda advocates 50% inheritance tax for wealth redistribution. This means 50% of whatever we build, with all our hard work and enterprise, will be taken away. 50%, besides all the tax we pay, which too will go up, if the Congress prevails.”

The Congress moved into damage-control mode as Mr Pitroda’s videos started doing the rounds on social media. Senior leader Jairam Ramesh posted, “Sam Pitroda has been a mentor, friend, philosopher, and guide to many across the world, including me. He has made numerous, enduring contributions to India’s developments. He is President of the Indian Overseas Congress.”

“Mr Pitroda expresses his opinions freely on issues he feels strongly about. Surely, in a democracy an individual is at liberty to discuss, express, and debate his personal views. This does not mean that Mr Pitroda’s views always reflect the position of the Indian National Congress. Many times they do not,” Mr Ramesh clarified.

“Sensationalising his comments now and tearing them out of context are deliberate and desperate attempts at diverting attention away from Mr Narendra Modi’s malicious and mischievous election campaign; that is anchored ONLY in lies and more lies,” he said.

Mr Ramesh also took a swipe at the BJP’s Amit Malviya and a 2014 tweet in which he cited a news report and expressed support for then junior Finance Minister Jayant Sinha’s idea “to tax inheritance wealth.” “I have a feeling this tweet will be deleted soon, so here’s a screenshot to go with…” he said, stressing, again, that the Congress has “no plans to implement a wealth tax.” “Given multiple BJP leaders have declared their support for it, where does PM Modi stand?”

Pawan Khera, chairman of Congress’s media and publicity department, said Prime Minister Modi’s remarks suggest that he has a problem with social justice. “In the past 10 years, the society’s deprived section has been left far behind due to Mr Modi’s policies,” he said.

“Seventy per cent wealth of the country is in the hands of just 22 people. So you can understand what the policies in the past 10 years have been. This is why we need social justice. It is important to know what section of the population comprises Dalits, other castes, economically weaker sections. This is why we are giving the ‘ginti karo’ slogan,” he said.

Pawan Khera, chairman of Congress’s media and publicity department, said Prime Minister Modi’s remarks suggest that he has a problem with social justice. “In the past 10 years, the society’s deprived section has been left far behind due to Mr Modi’s policies,” he said. He also stressed that neither Mr Pitroda had said the Congress would bring any inheritance act policy nor any such move was mentioned in the party’s manifesto.

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate told the media that the party did not impose any inheritance tax when it was in power for so many years. “Now you are trying to spread lies and create a bogey when there is none,” she said. “Congress doesn’t believe in inheritance tax and we have never discussed or contemplated this. It’s actually Narendra Modi and his former finance minister Arun Jaitley who contemplated this, it’s their agenda,” she said.



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