NEW DELHI: The Goods and Services Tax or GST Bill is in trouble yet again. A day before Finance Minister Arun Jaitley meets his counterparts from states to discuss amendments, parliament was abuzz that the thaw between the government and the Congress after a nine-month frost is almost over.
The Congress attacked the government for attempting consensus on GST and attacking the party’s top leaders at the same time. “Cooperation in the house for the interest of the country we are doing. But politically they are taking revenge,” said senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge.
The party is threatening to withdraw the flexibility it displayed recently – agreeing with the government to allocate five hours to discuss and pass the bill. It was a step forward, though no date was fixed.
But then the Enforcement Directorate, which handles financial crimes, launched an investigation against former Haryana Chief Minister and Congress leader BS Hooda, in a case in which Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul already face trial.
Both have denied misusing Congress funds in the case filed by the BJP’s Subramanian Swamy to acquire property worth hundreds of crores owned by a defunct party newspaper, the National Herald and its publishing company.
A senior JD(U) said, “What was the need to lodge an FIR at this time? This could have happened two weeks later. It has been done intentionally at the directions of the Prime Minister’s Office.”
“It seems the government is not interested in GST and is creating impediments,” said Tathagata Satpathy of the Biju Janata Dal.
Anil Desai of the Shiv Sena, a member of the NDA government, echoed the sentiment. “The Congress was coming around. Things were improving. Time duration for discussion was fixed. Why is the consensus exercise being subverted now?”
Praful Patel of the NCP, which has batted for the bill, claimed there was a link between the bill and the case against Mr Hooda and Congress leaders.
The Congress says the government might be making correct statements about the GST but it doesn’t want the bill now. Claiming there was “serious differences in the government” over the GST, party leader Jairam Ramesh said the government is worried that it may trigger inflation.
BJP leaders admit that if GST rolls out by next year, it may have a twin impact. “One, the high rate of GST and the larger tax base it may engage could trigger price rise during the crucial UP and Gujarat polls,” a senior BJP leader said.
There are also apprehensions that the BJP’s loyal votebank of traders may revolt as GST may bring greater accountability among those who don’t pay taxes.
A senior NDA leader, however, said if the bill is passed with Congress help, “the BJP may lose the poll plank that the Congress is obstructing pro-reform measures.”
With 60 members, the Congress is the single largest party in the 245-member Rajya Sabha. With the support of allies and a few regional parties opposing the bill, it reckons the government cannot muster the two-thirds majority needed to enact the GST.
While the government denies the opposition charges, none of its leaders are ready to explain on record why each time the climate on the GST bill is improving, either government agencies make a move against the Gandhis, or the BJP sharpens its attack on the Congress’ first family.