Congress split on GST strategy, but other opposition parties back NDA

The government has managed to divide the opposition by getting support of most regional parties even as Congress evaluates options

The monsoon session runs from 18 July to 12 August. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
The monsoon session runs from 18 July to 12 August. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

New Delhi: With a little over a week left for the start of the monsoon session of Parliament, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is finally getting support from non-Congress parties in its bid to pass the constitution amendment bill for a goods and services tax (GST).

The government, which is keen that the bill is passed in this session of Parliament, is talking to opposition political parties to support the bill in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in a minority.

The bill is stuck in the 245-member Rajya Sabha, where the government needs the support of at least 163 members to get it voted through.

The monsoon session runs from 18 July to 12 August.

Although the NDA is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha with just 72 members of Parliament (MPs), it has managed to divide the opposition by winning the support of regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) which has 19 MPs, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP, 6), Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) or JDU (13), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) (6 MPs).

“The government has the numbers to pass GST, but we understand that it is a constitutional amendment bill and, therefore, the decision should be unanimous. Voting on the bill is the last step. We will reach out to the opposition again and try to convince the Congress party. The government has made efforts to convince opposition earlier also,” said a senior minister.

Both the main ruling parties in Bihar—JDU and RJD—are in favour of the bill and are likely to vote in its support when it comes up in the Rajya Sabha.

“We are in favour of the bill; our chief minister Nitish Kumar (of Bihar) has also given clarity on this issue. Ideally, we would want the government to bring the other opposition parties also on board but, our support to the bill is irrespective of who is supporting it, including the Congress party,” a senior JDU leader from Rajya Sabha said, requesting anonymity.

NDA leaders also want to reach out to the 10 nominated members and 5 independent MPs.

The government has already got a go-ahead from the 12 MPs of the Trinamool Congress and eight of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

Senior leaders of the party argue that with the support of 72 MPs belonging to various non-Congress parties and 15 nominated and independent MPs, the NDA, with its 72 MPs, has a good chance of reaching 163.

“Mayawati has made it clear that the party will support the government on GST bill. We maintain that stand,” said Ambeth Rajan, senior BSP leader and Rajya Sabha member.

Realizing that the numbers in the upper House are now favouring the NDA, the Congress party is divided and a section of its leadership believes that the party should also come forward to support the bill.

The Congress party officially maintains in-principle support for the bill but has demanded some changes.

Days before the start of the monsoon session, the party has been holding consultations with its senior leaders on GST.

There is a section in the party which feels the top leadership has gone too far in its resistance to the bill and that the political fallout of not supporting the bill at an opportune time could be far-reaching.

“There is a section in the party which feels that we have gone too far in our resistance to the bill, especially when it comes to the GST rate condition. It was a bill that we had brought in and opposing it for so long will not work in our favour. There are some of us who have flagged this to the top leadership, but there is still no clarity as to what our final stand is going to be,” said a senior party leader from Rajya Sabha aware of the developments, requesting anonymity.

One of the demands of the Congress party is a revenue-neutral rate not higher than 18% mentioned in the Constitution amendment bill.

A section of the leadership feels insisting on this demand could backfire on the party, given that the other non-Congress parties are slowly coming round to the bill. The political impasse over the draft law has already delayed the roll-out of the GST, originally scheduled for 1 April this year.

Apart from the Congress, the only party holding out is Tamil Nadu’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which has 13 MPs. The Left parties with their 9 MPs want the government to call for an all-party meeting to build consensus.

A senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who did not want to be named, said, “There are certain reservations against the bill which need to be addressed by the government. The central committee of the party (CPM) in its last meeting had also called for an all-party meeting to address these issues with all the stakeholders.”

Political analysts feel that the Congress will agree to back GST if the government holds talks with it. “Congress party has to come out of this pessimistic phase where it has a severe bankruptcy of ideas. If it continues to oppose GST, it will further politically isolate itself,” N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst said.

“In my opinion, the Congress party will turn around in the last minute and agree to GST with at least some conditions so it can justify its opposition for so long. Also, Ananth Kumar is the new parliamentary affairs minister at the helm and the contours of engagement with the government could also change,” he added.

Pretika Khanna contributed to the story.

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