Making a hard push for the GST bill on the eve of Parliament’s monsoon session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked an all-party meeting on Sunday to keep “national interest” in mind and not just who gets the credit.
The Congress — which finds itself increasingly isolated on the issue — in turn, announced plans to take on the NDA government in the House over attempts to destabilise state governments and the Kashmir situation, drawing the battle lines for what is likely to be a stormy session.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley will meet senior Congress leaders on Tuesday for negotiations on the goods and services tax bill. The government senses a bright chance for its passage after parties like the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and BJD backed the key reform at the meeting.
The Congress also indicated it was open to negotiations with Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, saying, “We have not taken any decision to stop a bill. We will support it on merit. We will support any bill that is in support of people, progress and growth.”
The GST bill, which aims to replace myriad local levies with a central indirect tax, has been pending before Parliament since 2008.
The monsoon session, starting Monday, will run till August 12 and have 20 working days, during which time the government hopes to get the bill cleared along with some legislative backlog, especially those pending in the Rajya Sabha where the Opposition is in a majority.
But while pledging their support to the GST bill, the opposition parties made it clear they were geared to attack the government on other issues.
A day after the Congress returned to power in Arunachal Pradesh after a spell of President’s Rule on the recommendation of the governor, Azad said state governments no longer trusted the Centre.
The BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab sought a debate on the role of governors, often accused of acting on the Centre’s behest.
“The government cannot do constitutional murder in Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Meghalaya and expect GST to be passed,” said senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, accusing the NDA of “poisoning the political atmosphere”.
Azad said the government was “using tricks” to destabilise opposition-ruled governments, pointing out that even the Shiromani Akali Dal, a BJP ally, had attacked the Centre for undermining states.
Racing against time to roll out GST from the next financial year, Modi pitched the bill as a matter of national importance.
Parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar said the government would talk to all parties to evolve consensus on the bill, which requires a constitution amendment bill to be passed separately in both Houses with a two-thirds majority. “Our legislative business, including GST, is a priority. We want to pass the GST bill with consensus. We are going to take every party on board,” he said.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi said it would support the GST bill if the state’s demand for a separate high court was fulfilled, while the SP advised the government to engage with all parties and not just the Congress. The CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury asked the PM to convene an all-party meeting exclusively on the GST bill.
A second all-party meeting was held in the evening, this time called by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. She said the parties had given an assurance to let Parliament function while the government said it was ready to talk on any issue that is raised.