New Delhi: Politics, it’s said, most often has no memory. A new reputation drives out an old one. This maxim seems to be in every politicians’ mind when it comes to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill.
olitics is also a game between strange bed-fellows. As the Monsoon Session of Parliament was washed away, with the Congress along with other parties stalling the passage of the GST Bill in Rajya Sabha, the debate has come back to when the BJP stalled it during UPA regime. Now the Congress seems to have taken sweet revenge.
The NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had promised to play the role of a catalyst to development in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, is certainly upset about failing to get the parliamentary nod to the economists’ favourite piece of draft legislation. This failure will now increase the pressure on the government to put the economy on track as it looks like it will be failing the 1 April 2016 deadline to roll out a uniform tax structure – something being presented as panacea to all economic woes.
Now to to tide over the crisis, that is the failure to muster the approval of two-third members of 245-member Rajya Sabha (that is 163-164 members), the Modi-led NDA regime is rather helplessly banking on the support of regional parties.
Hence the new found optimism in the voice of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, when he referred to regional chieftains, could not be missed.
“The importance of GST need not be overstated,” he said.”As far as GST is concerned, most of the states like West Bengal, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh are consuming states and are probably more keen and thus have been all votaries of the GST.”
“The third force you all are talking about is a forum of regional parties and here most states and most parties favour GST.”
Jaitley and NDA’s other floor managers in the Rajya Sabha, seem to draw strength from the so-called “meeting of minds” of regional chieftains in Lutyens’ Delhi during the last 24-48 hours.
In a key development, seen as preliminary step and “meeting of minds”, several non-Congress, non-BJP leaders met on 12 August at the initiative of Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and NCP stalwart Sharad Pawar.
The participants included Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh, who was at the forefront in in pointing out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi that she could not take support from regional parties for granted. This actually started the ‘isolation’ of the Congress at the fag end of the Monsoon Session, where the “no discussion without resignation” writ of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi prevailed for a fortnight.
Bihar-based JD(U), which has 12 members in the Upper House, and is a known Congress ally, also had their compulsions in attending such a meeting and thus Sharad Yadav and KC Tyagi were seen interacting with Sharad Pawar and Mulayam. The presence of National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah has also made things interesting.
BJP leaders are usually tight-lipped about a meeting of regional parties but some are optimistic among them that such a get together of “non-Congress, non-BJP players” can also be seen as a “pro-GST club”.
If it turns out to be true, optimists among BJP leaders believe half their work will be half-done. Like the Finance Minister, who made a candid assertion at a press conference on Thursday, “I am an eternal optimistic.”
A key BJP strategist said, GST can actually be a game-changer economically as well as politically.
“Parties like NCP of Sharad Pawar, Trinamool of Mamata and National Conference of Farooq Abdullah can be future BJP allies at least on broad issues of principle,” a senior leader said.
Jaitley, though sought to make it clear that he would not reveal his ‘strategy’, but in the same breath said, “Sharad Pawar himself has been a strong supporter of GST.”
It might explain why the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs chaired by prime minister on Thursday decided to keep the date about deciding to prorogue the Monsoon Session of parliament on hold for the time being.
This was a broad hint that the government, despite the number crunch in Rajya Sabha, would not like to close the option of passing the GST Bill by August-end or by the first week of September.
“If it is not passed by August end or so then it would be difficult to reach the target of 1 April, 2016,” admitted Jaitley.
Answering questions, the finance minister ruled out a joint session of Parliament and said, “Under law, the GST Bill which is a constitution amendment bill needs to be passed by two-third members in both the Houses”.
Jaitley said GST is “an enabling law” and thus would subsequently require approval from half the state legislatures.”
Lashing out at the Congress for disrupting Rajya Sabha proceedings, he said as it stood today, numbers were in favour of GST and thus the Congress deliberately did not allow smooth conduct of the Upper House.
“We will make our own assessment,” he said while facing a volleys of questions as to how would government manage to push the GST Bill. “I will not reveal the strategy but I would clearly say we are determined and it would be our endeavour to roll out GST from 1 April, 2016,” he said.
To give the nation’s economy a boost and improve the public image of Modi, there is clear pressure on Jaitley and Modi’s economic advisors to not only identify and reverse what has gone wrong, but they also must try to gauge how they can achieve political gains vis-a-vis Congress which had once cornered the government with the ‘suit-boot-ka sarkar’ jibe.
That by itself is a huge task, and as Jaitley tried to counter Rahul Gandhi’s allegation by a well-crafted phrase, “soojh-boojh ka sarkar”. The man on the street has his wishlist ready: bring down onion prices, ensure jobs in the market, develop infrastructure. In short, nothing short of a ‘new India’ will mean the Modi sarkar will be considered that delivers.