The monsoon session of Parliament on Thursday adjourned sine die without passing the all important goods and services tax (GST) constitutional amendment but theCabinet Committee on Political Affairs decided not to prorogue the session in a hurry, keeping the door open for extending the current session. Alternatively, the government indicated it might even call a short-duration session of Parliament to ensure passage.
But, renewed war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress leadership cast a shadow on any hope of a rapprochement between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and the Congress. Not only Finance Minister Arun Jaitley but even Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted the Nehru-Gandhi family, at a meeting of the NDA. They said the Gandhi family obstructed GST as it has been unable to digest NDA’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi rebutted with matching ferocity. “It (External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s attack) makes no difference to me. I am here to defend the country from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and (Narendra) Modi,” he said, adding, “When your (media) views clash with their (government) views, your mikes will be shut.”
To a question whether the standoff could impact even the winter session, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said he was an optimist and hoped the pressure of public opinion could make Congress see reason. He said the government was committed to the passage of the GST constitutional amendment but conceded the April 1, 2016 deadline for the tax might be difficult to meet. Jaitley said numbers in the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in a minority, were loaded in favour of the legislation. He said the GST constitutional amendment could be passed even without the Congress, as the Left parties had supported the Bill in the Lok Sabha and their objections to it were “notional”.
At the NDA meeting, the PM asked all MPs of the coalition to fan out across the country to expose the Congress. He equated the parliamentary disruptions by the Congress to the Emergency. “Congress party wants to save the family, while BJP wants to save the country as it is our principle,” he said. From end-August to the first week of September, an NDA minister along with four MPs will visit the 44 constituencies represented by Congress MPs and the nine that had sent Left parties MPs to highlight their “obstructionist” politics. The meeting passed a resolution that criticised the “petulant politics of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi” in obstructing passage of GST and stealing jobs from the poor.
NDA MPs marched from Vijay Chowk to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi inside the Parliament premises to protest the Congress obstructionism. Minutes later, Rahul Gandhi led a protest march of Congress MPs to the President to protest appointment of RSS recommended people to government institutions, including Pune based Film and Television Institute of India. He said the PM lacked guts to bring back to India former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi, the “biggest link” between the political system and unaccounted money.
Later in the day, Jaitley took more shots at the Gandhi family. He said Congress President Sonia Gandhi has a “hit a new low” as it is for the first time the senior most leader of a mainstream party jumped into the well of the House. On Wednesday, she had stormed into the well of the Lok Sabha to protest an alleged remark from a BJP MP about her sister. The finance minister said Rahul Gandhi has failed to recognise the difference between sloganeering and a parliamentary speech. “The more he grows, the more he immatures,” Jaitley said.
The finance minister said once the constitutional amendment was passed by Parliament and half the state assemblies, three more pieces of legislation, two by the Centre and one by states, would have to be passed. He said the drafts of these pieces of legislation were ready and the government was working on setting up the information technology backbone for implementing GST.
Jaitley refused to disclose future government strategy but added that Congress numbers were set to deplete in the Rajya Sabha in a year’s time, betraying the government’s assessment that little might be achieved in the Rajya Sabha in the forthcoming Parliament sessions, given the standoff between the BJP and Congress leadership.
Congress Leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram said corporate India had, in private, complained for six years that the BJP was “obstructionist” on the GST. “We (the Congress) have raised some substantial issues and put our dissent in writing – there should be a cap on the GST rate at 18 per cent, the one per cent additional levy needs to go, and there has to be a dispute redressal authority?The government needs to address the fundamental concerns we have raised for cooperation. After all, we are the authors of the GST and we, too, want a GST as good as it can be. Let the government respond to it.”
Enumerating the “takeaways” for the Congress from the monsoon session, Congress communication chief Randeep Surjewala said, “We have exposed before the country the corruption and the scams of this NDA government. Also, as far as legislations go, we have made the government change its stance on the land Bill after a year of obduracy. And, on the GST, we have highlighted how the NDA law is half-baked and piecemeal, while that being proposed by us is the best law we can have.”
As the two Houses were adjourned, secretariats of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha released statistics of the business transacted in them in the past 21 days, which showed the session was the least productive in the past 15 years, bettering only the winter session of 2010, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Opposition had disrupted proceedings to demand a joint parliamentary committee probe in the 2G telecom spectrum scam.