The Congress on Monday stuck to its stand on a Parliament washout if the government failed to sack “tainted” BJP ministers, despite the Prime Minister’s offer for debate on the Lalit Modi and Vyapam controversies.
The standoff pushed into uncertainty several reform-related bills that were to be tabled in Parliament when it opens for the monsoon session on Tuesday.
The biggest casualty could be the goods and services tax (GST) bill, pending since the Congress-led UPA government first floated it. The GST was aimed at creating a uniform market across the country by doing away with several state regulations such as local taxes and levies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed at an all-party to let Parliament function smoothly during the 18-day monsoon session.
“Let every issue be discussed in Parliament. Of all the forums available for expression of one’s views, Parliament is the best. Yes, government has more responsibility in enabling normal functioning of Parliament but so do all of you,” he said at the meeting convened by parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu.
But his appeal failed to cut ice as the principal opposition party said it wouldn’t retract from its position: “First resignation, then House session.”
The Congress has been demanding the resignation of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje for their alleged help to former IPL chief Lalit Modi and that of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the multi-crore Vyapam college admission and recruitment scam.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, who heads the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, reasserted Congress’s stand at the all-party meeting and effectively pushed the monsoon session on course for heavy turbulence.
Party colleague Kapil Sibal later said the Prime Minister has become the chowkidar or watchman of the corrupt, recalling Modi’s 2014 election campaign remark that he would become the “desh ka chowkidar”.
For its part, the BJP rejected the Congress’s demand despite trying to make amends by announcing that foreign minister Swaraj will issue a statement on the Lalit Modi controversy. Also, it promised a detailed statement on Modi’s foreign tours following the opposition’s allegation that the government was doing a “U-turn on Pakistan policy”.
The BJP hoped that the Congress cannot oppose its “own bill” — the GST — which enjoyed the support of regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party, BSP, JD(U), DMK, Trinamool Congress and the Leftist bloc.
To sweeten it up, the government tried to woo the Congress by accepting one of its key demands: 100% compensation for state for five years.
The Congress clarified its position on the GST bill after it was somewhat isolated at the meeting called by Naidu where a number of parties felt a washout of Parliament was not a solution.
“If the bill finally comes, we will decide whether to support it or abstain during voting,” a Congress leader said, explaining that the party was not opposed to the bill per se. “We protest Modi’s failure to deliver clean governance.”