Showdown brings cloud of uncertainty over GST, again

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Parliament house in New Delhi on July 24th 2015. Express photo by Ravi Kanojia.

The GST bill, originally expected to be listed on Thursday, is not in the list of business for the day.

With the Rajya Sabha plunging into another impasse, the fate of the GST bill has started to look uncertain once again after a number of Opposition parties had committed their support to it.
It has been five days since Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh but there has been no structured meeting to follow that up. Sources in the government, however, said there have been some informal talks between the sides. The sources said they expect a response from the Congress after Sonia returns from abroad on December 6. But Congress sources said the next round of talks will have to be between the two sides’ leaders in Parliament. While the government said it has addressed the issues raised by the Congress, the latter said the ball is in the government’s court.
The GST bill, originally expected to be listed on Thursday, is not in the list of business for the day.
The newest impasse was triggered after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sought to counter Kumari Selja’s two-day-old remark about discrimination at the Dwarka temple. Ministers Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Piyush Goyal joined the issue with the latter equating Selja’s allegation with “manufactured discrimination.”
Union minister V K Singh upset the Opposition further with five tweets attacking Rahul Gandhi. Criticising Rahul’s attack Tuesday for Singh’s ‘dog’ analogy with the killing of two Dalit children in Haryana, the minister said it was “intriguing” that Rahul had raised questions about his absence from the Lok Sabha during the debate.
“Wonder someone who vanished for 57 days earlier this year and has the poorest track records when it comes to attending the Parliament (43% in 2003) and does so with a straight face… He deserves no justification from me about my commitment, love and respect for the great nation,” Singh tweeted.
The Congress, the largest party in the Rajya Sabha, which has been stalling the passage of the GST bill, has indicated it may not get cleared in the ongoing winter session. The treasury benches had been hopeful the impasse would end as Modi has reached out to the Congress seeking its support. BJP MPs have been asked to “exercise restraint” to avoid provoking the Opposition which it said was “keen” on sabotaging the government’s development agenda.
Amid the new uncertainty, government sources appeared unfazed. “Things have not gone so bad that the bill will get stuck again,” said a minister. But, he added, “if the Congress wants to have the vicarious pleasure of delaying it further, let them have it.”
A section of the BJP leaders argued that politically, non-passage of the bill would hurt the Congress more than the BJP. With the prime minister and the BJP sending a message to the international community and the domestic industry that it has gone out of way to get it cleared — they say his decision to meet Congress leaders was a game-changer — the government can blame the Congress if it stalls the bill again.
States that are key bastions of the BJP, such as Gujarat and Maharashtra, are apprehensive about the new tax regime while Tamil Nadu, which is going to polls next year and is ruled by a party friendly to the NDA, too has reservations. In the other states going to polls — Assam, West Bengal and Kerala — the Congress has high stakes.

Showdown brings cloud of uncertainty over GST, again

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