While Gandhi would like to send out a message not to buckle down, the NDA is trying to isolate the party and make them look irrelevant
Many argue that this is the best thing that could have happened to Gandhi, for it will now mean that the Muslims of India will now flock to Gandhi and the Congress, believing he and the party are the only organisations that can stand between them and the Sangh affiliates like Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad.
Cynical as it may sound this could be one of the reasons why Gandhi refused to apologise in November last year when the court offered him a way out. The case was originally registered in Bhiwandi in Maharashtra and Gandhi travelled all the way to be present at the hearing of the court although he was not required to. All this suggests he is not backing off and is ready to be imprisoned for his views.
The factual position — what the Sangh had to do with the plot to assassinate the Mahatma — has little or nothing to do with the political use to which it is being put. Gandhi can do one of two things — say he did not say what the RSS says it heard him say; or that he did say what he said and it was not defamatory.
Those are legal positions. Either way, the message will go down that he is the only person who is ready to take on the RSS head on.
The Parliamentary dynamic and implications of this are different. On Goods and Services Tax (GST) issue, there is no doubt the Congress is isolated and is likely to become more so as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley heads out to Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on Friday to solicit the support of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which is neither supporting BJP nor Congress; and Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, which requires little persuasion since it is an alliance partner of the National Democratic Alliance government.
The current strength of the Rajya Sabha is 243. It needs two thirds present and voting to pass a Constitution amendment bill. This works out to 162.
The naysayers in the Rajya Sabha on GST are two — AIADMK with 13 and Congress with 60.
Where does that leave the Rajya Sabha? 74 are against the bill. The rest are for it (barring tactical objections raised by parties such as Samajwadi Party which says don’t take us for granted, but has not really raised substantive issues against GST). This figure works out to 169. 162 are needed for clear passage.
Nobody is saying it is easy: a lot of persuasion, placating and cajoling needs to be done. And the government would like to take the Congress on board.
What does Congress want?
There is a lot of noise, but cutting through all that, its basic demand is cap on the rate of tax because indirect taxes hurt the poor the most if they are raised at will.
The government says the GST Council is there to take care of that. The Congress says, if in the future, many states are ruled by one party, it can conceivably have its way in the GST Council; where one state has one vote, regardless of its weight in the economy or its contribution to it.
As a compromise, the party says: don’t include the cap in the constitutional amendment bill. It is enough if it is in the bill that spells out GST (and this can be amended by simple majority).
The government says if that is done now, the bill will have to be sent back to the Lok Sabha, which will take time.
So far, it does not look as if the Congress is going to be taken on board by the government which figures it can pass the GST bill and at the same time, make the Congress look irrelevant to the whole GST narrative. That’s two birds with one stone!