Caught between the urgency to pass the long-pending goods and services tax bill and an impasse arising out of the suspension of 25 Congress MPs, the government is believed to be trying to find an amicable solution to de-escalate tensions with the principal opposition party.
The Congress hardened its stand on Tuesday with party managers privately saying they couldn’t guarantee their MPs wouldn’t resort to protests, making things more difficult for the peace-brokers. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan too, showed no sign of softening, saying, “A mother sometimes has to be strict to control her children.”
Some regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party, BJD and Trinamool Congress started back-channel negotiations with senior government managers but the Congress didn’t make any effort to reach out to Mahajan.
Instead, it boycotted a land bill meeting with eight other parties and staged protests outside Parliament, targeting the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Party members feel the “martyr” status arising out of the suspension suits them well politically but government managers argue the Congress must come forward for any effort of rapprochement to succeed. Any attempt to stabilise the situation without Congress’ support may be counter-productive, they feel.
On Tuesday, parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu backed Mahajan’s decision, saying she gave “enough chances” before taking action. But he added, “It is painful to see anyone suspended from the House.”
Although the government formally maintained the decision to revoke the suspension lay entirely with the Speaker and it had nothing to do with it, ruling party managers made it clear they were keen to see the current situation improve.
The government is worried rising tensions leave almost no room for introduction of the GST bill in the upper House. Naidu told HT the government was inclined to bring the reform bill next week in Rajya Sabha. “It is very much on our agenda. We will definitely try to bring it this session.”
Sources close to the Speaker said if any party took the initiative to request Mahajan to revoke the suspension, she may seek assurance from the Opposition that sloganeering and display of placards won’t be repeated.
But the Congress appeared ready for an all-out attack on the BJP and pointed out the GST bill would be the biggest casualty if the stalemate persisted. “We certainly can’t allow the government to table the GST bill unless the situation improves,” said a senior Congress strategist.
Meanwhile, agency reports said CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury did not rule out moving a motion against Mahajan, calling the Speaker’s decision “excessive in nature”.