New Delhi :The historic Central Hall of Parliament tonight opened for its first midnight ceremony in two decades for the launch of India's most sweeping tax reform, GST, with country's top leaders, cinestars and industrialists in attendance.
President Pranab Mukherjee, who piloted the first constitutional amendment for unifying more than a dozen central and state taxes, shared a specially erected dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and former prime minister H D Dewa Gowda too were on the dais with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh too was supposed to be on the dais but he yesterday sent a regret letter to the Prime Minister's Office apparently owing to his Congress' party's decision to boycott the "tamasha" (gimmick) launch ceremony.
Megastar Amitabh Bachchan, country's most famous singer Lata Mangeshkar as also industry doyen Ratan Tata were in attendance at the launch of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Almost the entire council of ministers and MPs from ruling alliance sat in the circular hall along with opposition law makers from Samajwadi Party, BJD, NCP and JD-U.
Congress, Left, TMC and RJD boycotted the ceremony.
NCP leader Sharad Pawar was seated with BJP president Amit Shah in the front row before the ceremony began, until former deputy prime minister and senior BJP leader L K Advani arrived and sat between them.
SP's Ramgopal Yadav was seated in the front rows, so were Bhartruhari Mahtab of BJD and AIADMK's A Navaneethakrishnan.
Subramanian Swamy, a bitter critics of GST-Network - the IT backbone provider for the new indirect tax regime, was also present at the launch.
Reserve Bank Governor Urjit Patel also attended the ceremony.
Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha as also Vijay Kelkar, who had first mooted the concept of GST in a report to finance ministry way back in 2003, were also present at the launch.
Unlike the last midnight event held in 1997 on the occasion of golden jubilee of the Independence at a special session of Parliament, it was a gala event at its circular - shaped hall that had been loaned for the launch of the historic reform.
Reminiscent of India's tryst with destiny on the midnight of August 15, 1947, former prime minister H D Deva Gowda too was present on the dais to launch a new taxation system that is set to dramatically re-shape over USD 2 trillion Indian economy.
As if giving representation to regional political parties, former Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal and National Conference leader Abdul Rahim Rather were invited for the event.
Former GST Council chairman Sushil Kumar Modi, former finance ministers of West Bengal and Kerala Asim Dasgupta and K K Mani, who played crucial role in negotiations for GST, were also present.
CAG Shashi Kant Sharma and his predecessors Vinod Rai and TN Chaturvedi, CVC K V Chowdary, three Election Commissioners including CEC Nasim Zaidi, Niti Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya, Metro man E Sreedharan, editor S Gurumurthy, agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan, UPSC Chairman David R Syiemlieh, CBEC chairman Vanaja N Sarna and CBDT chairman Sushil Chandra were also present.
Senior lawyers Soli Sorabjee, KK Venugopal and Harish Salve as also heads of industry chambers - Pankaj Patel of Ficci, Shobana Kamineni of CII and Sunil Kanoria of Assocham too were on the list of invitees.
The GST Bill was originally piloted by Mukherjee when he was the Finance Minister in the previous UPA regime in 2011.
The GST Council, that brings together the central and state governments, has met 18 times to thrash out how the tax will work.
Originally, the launch of GST which had been in the works for over a decade, was to be done from Vigyan Bhawan -- the largest convention centre in the national capital that has hosted majority of the meetings of the GST Council.
But the historic Central Hall was thought to be a better choice considering the importance of the new indirect tax code that unifies more than a dozen separate levies to create a single market with a population greater than the US, Europe, Brazil, Mexico and Japan put together.
GST will simplify a web of taxes, regulations and border levies by subsuming an array of central and state levies including excise duty, service tax and VAT.
It is expected to gradually re-shape India's business landscape, making the world's fastest-growing major economy an easier place to do business.
GST has been dubbed as the most significant economic reform since BJP government came to power in 2014 and is expected to add as much as 2 percentage points to the GDP growth rate besides raising government revenues by widening the tax net.
A four-rate structure that exempts or imposes a low rate of tax of 5 per cent on essential items and top rate of 28 per cent on cars and consumer durables has been finalised. The other slabs of tax are 12 and 18 per cent.