RS gap narrows but GST still a challenge


New Delhi, June 30: The recent Rajya Sabha elections have given the Centre a little more confidence about passing the Goods and Services Tax bill during the monsoon session of Parliament, which begins on July 18.

The BJP’s 11 new seats have narrowed the gap with the Congress and its allies in the upper House, a gap that has so far blocked the passage of several key bills.

However, the GST bill’s enactment still faces an enormous challenge and will require the government to win over a range of non-NDA, non-UPA groups.

 In a recent interview to Times Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stressed that the bill needed to be passed immediately not because it was an “economic reform” but because its absence meant “loss for the poor of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam”.

Passing the bill, however, requires a constitutional amendment. This means it has to be passed in each House separately, with a two-thirds majority of those voting and a majority of the House’s total membership. The BJP and its allies have the numbers in the Lok Sabha.

In the Rajya Sabha, the BJP now has 54 MPs against the Congress’s 60. The BJP’s votes rise to 81 when one counts the allies: the Telugu Desam Party, Shiromani Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, People’s Democratic Party, Sikkim Democratic Front, Bodoland People’s Front, Naga People’s Front and the Republican Party of India (Athawale) besides four Independents and five nominated members.

The Independents include media baron Subhash Chandra, who won from Haryana with BJP support. Among the pro-BJP nominated members are Navjot Singh Sidhu and Subramanian Swamy.

In a House of 245, the BJP needs 164 votes to pass the GST bill, which means it’s still short by 83. The government hopes to offset the deficit by enlisting the support of the Samajwadi Party (19 members), Trinamul Congress (12), Janata Dal United (10), Biju Janata Dal (8), Bahujan Samaj Party (6), Nationalist Congress Party (5), DMK (4), Rashtriya Janata Dal (3), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (3) and one-member parties like the Indian National Lok Dal, Indian Union Muslim League, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Kerala Congress, Janata Dal Secular and the YSR Congress.

This will leave the government with 157 votes, requiring 7 more. The BJP may therefore need to bring around the AIADMK, so far opposed to the GST on the ground that it “harms” a manufacturing state like Tamil Nadu.

In any case, the BJP cannot be sure of GST endorsements from Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, both based in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. This perhaps prompted Modi, during his Times Now interview, to cite how the heartland state was “suffering” because of the GST’s absence.

Even the DMK might be a tough nut to crack because of its adversary AIADMK’s depiction of the GST as harmful to Tamil Nadu.

On the other hand, the Janata Dal United, despite its alliance with the Congress, is officially in favour of a GST regime. The AIADMK (13) and the nine members from the CPM and the CPI have yet to spell out their stand in clear terms.

One Independent (A.V. Swamy) and five nominated MPs – Anu Agha, K. Parasaran, Rekha, Sachin Tendulkar and K.T.S. Tulsi – are likely to vote against the bill, having made it to the Rajya Sabha during UPA rule.

The government is also looking at passing several other bills, which include the Enemy Properties (Amendment and Validation) Bill – now in force in the form of an ordinance – Consumer Protection Bill, 2015, and the amended land acquisition bill.


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