New Delhi: While opposing the present draft of Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, the Congress party’s public stand is that it has serious reservations over three crucial points – 1% inter-state surcharge, lack of 18% tax cap and the format of dispute redressal mechanism.
But is it really the reason behind their obdurate refusal to cooperate in parliament? The answer is a big NO. The complete story lies somewhere else. The Modi government, anyways, has clarified that the three points of contention can be amicably resolved if the Congress is willing to come to the negotiation table.
So why is Congress not coming forward to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the government? If the senior leaders of the Congress are to be believed, this is primarily because the party feels hurt over the fact that PM Modi, his ministers and BJP workers left no stone unturned in publically taunting and humiliating them after their historic defeat in 2014 general elections.
Many Congress leaders are miffed over the fact that they were not only denied the leader of opposition post in the Lok Sabha but they were constantly shamed by reminding that they have been reduced to 44 seats (Now 45 after their victory in Ratlam by-poll) in the lower house. A shocked party did not offer any formidable resistance initially but two bills namely, land acquisition bill and GST Bill made them realise their ability to block ambitious legislations of Modi government.
Congress leaders point out that in the case of land acquisition bill, the government did not even bother to enter into a constructive dialogue with the opposition and preferred to announce its eventual burial. But it’s the GST Bill that has made the government desperate and they are now willing to address the concerns of the opposition including Congress.
“It took Modi government 18 months to realise that opposition exists in this country. Why didn’t they realise this for so long? And consultation can’t be on only one legislation. It has to be a continuous process,” Anand Sharma, Deputy Leader of Congress in Rajya Sabha said while addressing the 88th Annual General meeting of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
The demand is very unambiguous. The Congress wants Modi government to treat it with respect even if the grand old party has suffered worst defeat of its history.
The Congress has also made it clear, albeit indirectly, that the party also expects some kind of reciprocity in lieu of its support on crucial bills in parliament.
For example, the embarrassment for its top leadership in National Herald case has led the party to believe that Modi and his cohorts are looking for opportunities to put their top leaders in the dock.
Despite BJP publically stating that it’s a complaint lodged by a private citizen on which Courts has initiated legal action, the Congress party is not fully convinced.
“Can the Prime Minister deny his relations with the complainant Subramanian Swamy? Is he not a member of the BJP today? If the PM and BJP deny their relations with Swamy, they are clearly lying,” Anand Sharma told reporters.
“And what about political machinations going on in Arunachal Pradesh? How can you hold assembly proceedings in a hotel or a dance-bar? There is a clear attempt on behalf of Modi government to destabilise the Congress government. The intervention by the High Court has only vindicated our stand,” asserted Anand Sharma.
Clearly, the Congress expects some reciprocity as well if the ruling party wants its support in the upper house. It remains to be seen whether the Modi government is willing to play the ball.
The BJP leaders, on their part, are busy reminding the opposition that economic reforms and development should not be allowed to suffer because of political skirmishes.
“ But this is what we were telling you for last 10 years when we were in power but you did not pay any heed to that,” retorted Rajeev Shukla when Harsh Chandra Meena, BJP MP, tried to take the moral high ground on the necessity for a political consensus involving economy.
And Pawan Kumar Verma, the JD(U) MP was quick to point out that the ruling party should not expect blind support from opposition in the parliament.
“Opposition parties are not there to become rubber-stamp for government decisions. We’ll question them wherever it’s needed. And if somebody from the ruling party makes a statement that is provocative, how can we ignore it and continue with other proceedings,” asked Verma.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently rued the fact that the government and the party have failed to communicate its achievement to the electorate. He had exhorted ministers and party workers to get the message trickled down to every nook and corner of the society.
It seems PM Modi is facing similar challenge in parliament as well. His government badly needs an effective communication mechanism with opposition leaders and more calibrated floor coordination in both the houses. The sooner they do it the better it would be for the economy.