Haven’t decided to stop Bill, will support on merit: Cong’s Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Reaching out to the Opposition on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament starting Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought its cooperation in ensuring the passage of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill and commended all parties for speaking in “one voice” on Kashmir which has been rocked by protests over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
At an all-party meeting Sunday, Modi welcomed remarks by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, who said no issue was more topical today than that of Kashmir. Agreeing with calls for a discussion on the Kashmir situation, the Prime Minister said: “Various parties have given statements on Kashmir events which benefited the country. This has sent a right message and I thank all the parties for the same.”
Noting that important Bills including the GST will be taken up during the session, Modi expressed the hope that there will be meaningful discussions and outcomes.
“GST is of national importance. Issue is not which government gets credit. Important Bills, including GST, will be taken up in the monsoon session and I hope there will be meaningful discussions and outcomes. All of us represent both the people and parties and let us keep national interests above everything else,” he said.
Azad later told reporters: “We have not taken any decision that we have to stop a Bill. We will support on merit. We will support any Bill which is in support of people, progress and growth.”
Congress chief whip in Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia said: “We want a concrete draft proposal from the government on GST. If we know how they plan to address the three contentious issues, we can revert.”
The government and Congress may resume their discussions on the Bill on Tuesday. “We have assured all parties that there will be open-mindedness and we are ready to discuss all issues,” Azad said.
The Prime Minister’s appeal on GST came close on the heels of talks between senior ministers and parliamentary leaders of the Congress.
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said the GST Bill could not be a bilateral issue between the Congress and BJP. He said it should be discussed at an all-party meeting before being brought back to the Rajya Sabha. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured him this would be done. Yechury’s stand was endorsed by SP representative Naresh Agrawal and senior BSP leader Satish Mishra.
Sudip Bandyopadhyay of Trinamool Congress reiterated his party’s long-standing support for the GST Bill which is a manifesto commitment of the party. BJD leader Bhartruhari Mahtab also supported the GST Bill.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar told reporters after the meeting that the Government will talk to all parties to evolve a consensus on the GST Bill. “Our legislative business, including GST, is a priority. We want to see we pass the GST Bill with consensus. We are going to take every party on board”.
Ananth Kumar said the government has lined up 16 Bills for passage in the session. Other than GST, these include Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, Indian Trusts (Amendment) Bill, Whistleblowers Protection (Amendment) Bill and Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill.
On the situation in Kashmir, Azad, a former chief minister of the state, drew the attention of leaders to the role of the national media. Chat shows featuring religious fundamentalists and exaggerated portrayals of the ground situation, he said, were fanning flames in the Valley.
Azad was backed by Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena who said every party was concerned about the developments in Kashmir. He demanded a discussion in both Houses and suggested that anybody who wishes to speak on the issue should be allowed to do so. NCP leader Tariq Anwar too sought a discussion on the Kashmir situation.
Azad, meanwhile, accused the government of “tricks” to destabilise Opposition-ruled states and made light of Modi’s talk of cooperation between the Centre and states by pointing out that even a BJP ally like Akali Dal had attacked it for “undermining” states.
Given the developments in Arunachal Pradesh where it managed to avert a trust-vote debacle by changing its CM, the Congress was also vocal on the issue of federalism and what Azad called the “trust deficit” of states because of the “indifferent attitude” of the Centre.
The Trinamool Congress too wanted a discussion on federalism and the BJD and NCP said Parliament needs to discuss the role of Governors. BSP’s Satish Mishra said roles of both Governors and Speakers should be discussed.
Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge urged the government to have the same “give-and-take” attitude with the Opposition in running the Lower House.