GST hopes revived on BJP-Congress thaw


NDA has reached out to the Congress just ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, reviving hopes of a political consensus on goods and services tax bill

New parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar spoke with Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma over the phone. The leaders agreed to a meeting before the monsoon session of the parliament begins on 18 July.

New Delhi: In the first sign of a thaw, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has reached out to the Congress just ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, reviving hopes of a political consensus for passage of the constitutional amendment bill to allow rollout of the proposed goods and services tax (GST).

The meeting, said a senior Congress leader, is imminent and could well happen over the next two days.

Senior leaders from both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) confirmed that newly appointed parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar had a telephone conversation with Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma, leader of the opposition and deputy leader of the Congress, respectively, in the Rajya Sabha.

A formal meeting is expected before the start of monsoon session, scheduled on 18 July. If they do meet, it would be the first time since November 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.

“Ananth Kumar spoke to both me and Ghulam Nabi Azad over the phone. The initiative has come from the government, they asked us for a meeting and we have agreed. We believe there should be a constant dialogue. We have been told that the meeting may happen over the next two days or in this week. There is no pre-fixed agenda of the meeting,” Sharma told Mint.

Senior ministers said the BJP-led NDA is likely to convene an all-party meeting before the start of the monsoon session of Parliament.

“There will be two all-party meetings, one by the government and another by Lok Sabha speaker. The government is keen to pass the GST bill in the upcoming Parliament session and we will try to build consensus with all political parties, especially Congress. It is a constitutional bill and it is important that the decision is unanimous,” a senior NDA minister said.

Senior leaders in the government argue that with the support of 72 members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to various non-Congress parties and 15 nominated and independent MPs, the NDA, with its 72 MPs, is within striking distance of the required two-thirds majority in the Rajya Sabha, which has a strength of 245 MPs.

There is a section in the Congress which believes the party has overplayed its resistance to GST, especially with its demand to cap the rate in the constitutional amendment bill.

One of the demands of the Congress is a revenue-neutral rate not higher than 18% to be mentioned in the Constitution amendment bill. Sharma recently said the government should “ring-fence” the GST rate so as not to burden the common man.

“It is not right to say that we have changed our stand on any of our demands. Let the talks happen and we will see what the outcome is. We feel the demands of our party are valid in the interest of the common man,” said a senior Rajya Sabha leader of the Congress, requesting anonymity.

The political impasse over the draft law has already delayed the rollout of the GST, originally scheduled for 1 April this year.

“I am sure the GST is going to be passed soon because the opposition parties seem to be mobilized in its favour. The government wants a statesman-like image and that is where the reaching out to Congress party fits in. Also, what is very important is they need to reach out to the Congress party not just for passing the GST but for the future bills as well, and so this is happening,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

“I believe both the sides, Congress and government, may give up on one or two points. They will walk midway and a compromise solution may be reached to pass the legislation,” he added.

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