The hope of an agreement on the GST bill dimmed despite talks between the government and the main Opposition party on Monday, with finance minister Arun Jaitley apprehending a “washout” of the current Parliament session and calling Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi a “crybaby”.
Earlier in the day, Jaitley and parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu’s meeting with some senior Congress leaders failed to make any headway on the goods and services tax (GST) bill.
In an interview with NDTV, Jaitley hit out at the top two Congress leaders, asking Rahul Gandhi to stop being a “crybaby”, and said party chief Sonia Gandhi’s statement that she is Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law “reeks of political entitlement”.
Citing the absence of Mallikarjun Kharge, who was not in Delhi, Congress leaders sought another meeting. “Today’s (Monday’s) talks remain inconclusive. It is a work in progress. There was no structured discussion,” party spokesperson Anand Sharma said.
“Engagement between government and Opposition cannot be restricted to one issue. After not engaging Opposition for 18 months, government is desperate to discuss with us just one bill. First they should not be over-obsessed with one bill as other important legislations are also pending,” he added.
“The last session of the Parliament did not function. The current session of the Parliament is also threatened with a wash out. The reasons for the wash out of the current session keep changing by the hour,” Jaitley wrote in a social media post where he also invoked India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to remind the Congress of the responsibilities of parliamentarians in lawmaking and smooth functioning of the House.
The finance minister also said in the interview that he sees “the writing on the wall—the Congress would not allow the GST bill to be passed” while he described the Congress-government meeting as a “non-meeting” because the party came “without their important leader (Kharge)”. The finance minister, however, added he would try to bring the Congress on board on the GST issue till the last day.
The ongoing session of Parliament has seven more days and the government has had limited success in pushing its legislative agenda. While the Lower House, where the government has a majority, is transacting business, 16 bills including the 122nd Constitution amendment bill on the GST are stalled in the Upper House, where the Congress has launched protests over a host of issues.
Stepping up the heat on the Congress, Jaitley referred to the party president’s statement that she is Indira’s daughter-in-law. “It was like a Dilliwallah who says ‘tum jaante nahin ho main kaun hoon’. Every fourth person in Delhi tells this ‘who I am’ line.”
Jaitley also accused Rahul of finding a “new excuse to stall Parliament daily”. According to Jaitley, “India is Indira” may work as a political slogan but won’t work as a legal defence.
This year’s monsoon session was a near-washout as the Congress-led Opposition demanded action against three BJP CMs and foreign minister Sushma Swaraj over alleged scams, stalling House proceedings.
In a bid to turn the tables on the Congress over disruptions, Jaitley quoted a 1957 speech in Parliament by Jawaharlal Nehru in his social media post and said “those who claim the legacy of Pandit ji must ask themselves what kind of history they are making”.
Saying that Nehru’s speech was a must read for “all of us”, Jaitley reproduced an “important paragraph” where the former prime minister said, “Here, we have sat in this Parliament, the sovereign authority of India, responsible for the governance of India. Surely, there can be no higher responsibility or greater privilege than to be a member of this sovereign body which is responsible for the fate of the vast number of human beings who live in this country.”
In the meeting on the GST bill, the government is said to have told Congress leaders that it is ready to accept the Opposition party’s demand on revamping the grievance redress mechanism. Doing away with the proposed GST council where the states enjoy two-thirds majority and the Centre has one-third share, the government is willing to give three-fourths to the states, sources said.
The government flatly refused to put an 18% cap on the GST rate in the 122nd Constitution amendment bill. Reacting to the Congress demand to scrap the addditional 1% entry tax, the government said in the meeting that it has no problem in meeting the demand but it has to take the states into confidence.
The Congress, represented by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Anand Sharma, remained non-committal. In a bid to buy more time, Azad said as Kharge was not present, the Congress could not spell out its final decision.
The two sides would meet again on Tuesday, Naidu told HT.
Jaitley said in his social media post that “the nation was waiting for the Parliament to discuss public issues, to legislate and approve a historic Constitution Amendment enabling the GST”.
He added, “All this is being indefinitely delayed. The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we being fair to ourselves and this country?”
In the post titled “Pt Nehru and Parliament”, Jaitley further quoted the former PM as saying, “All of us, if not always, at any rate from time to time, must have felt this high sense of responsibility and destiny to which we had been called. Whether we were worthy of it or not is another matter. We have functioned, therefore, during these five years not only on the edge of history but sometimes plunging into the processes of making history.”
Taking a dig at the Congress over frequent disruptions in the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said, “Those who claim the legacy of Pandit ji must ask themselves the question, what kind of history are they making.”