Lack of opposition support forces Congress to rethink on GST

  • Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 12, 2016 14:01 IST
Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi. (Photo by Sushil Kumar/ Hindustan Times)

A banker, who recently met Rahul Gandhi after a gap of eight months, said the Congress vice-president was almost reluctant to talk about the Goods and Services Tax bill.

“In our first meeting, he had spoken for almost 20 minutes why the GST bill needs to be opposed. In our last meeting, he mentioned GST barely for 2 minutes,” he said.

Gandhi’s apparent reluctance to speak elaborately on the GST was not an indication that his party has started considering it as a non-issue. But it might have reflected the fact that, eight months ago, the fate of the GST bill lay in Congress’ hand.

Now, it’s no more.

The largest Opposition party which put in three strict conditions—including a cap on the tax rate in the 122nd Constitution amendment bill—stands all but isolated as no other party, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Janata Dal(United) or Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, supports its demand.

This demand was to ensure that “it becomes a pro-people’s GST bill and not a pro-corporate law”. But now, with no supporting voice from other parties on this issue, the Congress is talking about taking a flexible stand, opening itself to negotiations with the ruling side.

Although the Congress is no more in the position to stall the bill, it still holds a key for GST bill’s passage simply because if the party decides to disrupt the House, the Constitution amendment bill can’t be passed amid chaos.

But the strategy to disrupt Parliament is now too old and risks earning the ire from other opposition parties that have repeatedly shown interest in running the House. It has already washed out two sessions of the Rajya Sabha by creating a ruckus. Congress’ disruptive approach may not get support from other opposition parties anymore.

In the last session, while the Congress didn’t allow the Question Hour and the Zero Hour on many days, it didn’t block the passage of many other bills—thereby again marking a shift in its floor strategy.

Two senior Congress leaders have spoken about diluting the rigid demand in the last four days.

Deputy leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, spoke about ring-fencing the tax rate.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said that if the government is not ready to put a cap in the Constitution amendment bill, it may do so in the GST bill which will follow the passage of the amendment bill.

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