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Top leaders, industrialists, celebrities attend midnight GST launch at Parliament

Top political leaders, industrialists, economists and filmstars descended on Friday night to witness the launch of the landmark GST at the historic Central Hall of Parliament which opened for a midnight ceremony for the first time in two decades.

President Pranab Mukherjee shared a specially erected dais in the circular hall with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vice- President Hamid Ansari.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and former Prime Minister HD Deve 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 sent a letter expressing regret to the Prime Minister's Office apparently owing to his Congress' party's decision to boycott the "tamasha" (gimmick) launch ceremony.

The Parliament building complex was illuminated just like it is done on national festivals such as the Independence Day and the Republic Day.

At the stroke of midnight, Mukherjee and Modi pressed two buttons on a glass box decorated with orchids and GST inscribed on it.

The pressing of buttons launched the GST and a two-minute video showcasing India's diverse culture and tradition. Mukherjee and Modi warmly shook hands after the launch.

Industry tycoon Ratan Tata, RBI governor Urjit Patel, Member of Parliament cum filmtar Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha were too among those present.

Haseeb Drabu, finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir -- the only state which has not passed the SGST Bill -- was also present.

Almost the entire council of ministers and MPs from ruling alliance sat in the circular hall along with opposition leaders from the Samajwadi Party, the BJD, the NCP and the JD-U.

The Congress, the Left, the TMC and the RJD boycotted the ceremony.

NCP leader Sharad Pawar was seated with BJP president Amit Shah in the front row.