BJP calls on Congress to set GST ball rolling, next meeting soon


There was no breakthrough, but both sides said they would meet again, possibly on Tuesday, to take the talks forward.

THE Centre on Friday sought to capitalise on the Congress’s willingness to look afresh at the Goods and Services Tax Bill by reaching out, literally, to the principal Opposition party.

On the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar walked into the Parliament chamber of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, to build a consensus on the GST legislation.

There was no breakthrough, but both sides said they would meet again, possibly on Tuesday, to take the talks forward.

 Azad and Congress’s Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, exchanged notes and proposals with Jaitley during the meeting that lasted for almost an hour. They agreed to return to the negotiating table after holding discussions with their respective leaderships, indicating that some concrete proposals were exchanged.

Jaitley said the government was trying to build a consensus on GST. “We have discussed all the points and once the monsoon session starts, we will meet again after discussing the issue within our respective parties,” he said.

Azad agreed, while describing the meeting as “preliminary”. “We gave our point of view, they gave their point of view. Whatever apprehensions or suggestions we had we have given, whatever they had they have given. Now we will get back to our leadership. They will also be discussing with their leadership, after which we will have a second meeting during the Parliament session,” he said.

Sharma said it was a “free and frank exchange” and there was an “in-depth discussion”.

Sharma said the two sides sensitised each other on their respective positions on the issue and that the second meeting would bring clarity.

Friday’s move was the second serious attempt by the NDA government to find a breakthrough on the issue. In November 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a held a meeting with his predecessor Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

The Congress has flagged three important suggestions on the bill, including the critical demand for the incorporation of an 18 per cent cap on the tax rate in the constitutional amendment. But the real hurdle appears to be the uneasy relationship between the two national parties.

Just as the BJP-led government is keen on pushing its fiscal reform agenda, the Congress has been nursing a grouse that the BJP, while in opposition, had tried to block its legislative business. Consequently, party leaders believe, the Congress’s performance record suffered.

But of late, the BJP has been optimistic on the bill for a variety of reasons. One, it believes that the Congress would not want to be seen as blocking a measure that seeks to benefit most states, including those governed by itself and its allies like Nitish Kumar.

Two, the party runs the risk of isolation considering that West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC president Mamata Banerjee, and Kerala’s CPI(M) Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan have indicated their readiness to support the bill. Although Vijayan had later been rebuffed by the national leadership of the CPI(M), there is a strong sentiment in favour of the bill within the party. Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) has already announced its support for the bill.

Three, corporate houses are in favour of the single-taxation regime and the Congress, which sees itself as a natural party of governance, cannot ignore this sentiment.

Friday’s meeting, according to sources, does not mean that a “magic formula has been found” to take the legislative process forward, but it has set the ball rolling.

Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters that the government is “very keen” to take the GST bill forward during the ensuing Parliament session and expressed confidence that it will be approved. “We are holding discussions with all our friends. We are confident the GST bill will be approved,” he said.


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