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New Delhi: The National Herald misappropriation of funds case has led to a confrontation between the Congress leadership and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which could cast a shadow on ambitious reform legislation slated for this session.

The prospects of lawmakers voting through the constitution amendment bill to allow a goods and services tax (GST) have suffered a setback because the two sides have not held a second round of discussions on the matter, as had been planned earlier.

Hopes for a patch-up rose after a panel set up by the government on GST rates recommended a standard GST rate of 17-18% while supporting the removal of an additional 1% tax on supply of services—two key demands of the Congress. However, the committee did not favour capping the rates in the constitution amendment bill.

The extent of the confrontation between the two sides can be gauged from the fact that although the business advisory committee (BAC) of the Rajya Sabha has decided to hold a four-hour-long debate on the GST, it has not appeared on the House’s list of business so far.

The BAC had also decided to hold a two-hour-long debate on the real estate Bill in the Rajya Sabha but that too has not been taken up for discussion. The confrontation can derail the winter session and the NDA government’s reform agenda.

The Delhi high court on Monday refused Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and four others exemption from having to make a personal court appearance in the National Herald case trial.

On Tuesday, Congress members in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha stormed the well as soon as the House met, protesting against the “politics of reve-nge", without naming the case. In Rajya Sabha, party members raised slogans against “tanashahi" (dictatorship) and “badle ki rajneeti" (politics of revenge).

Both Houses were adjourned for the day and are scheduled to reconvene on Wednesday.

Political analysts felt that it is unfortunate that the Congress party has chosen to disrupt Parliament’s proceedings because of a legal decision.

“It is unfortunate that the Congress has linked a judicial decision with Parliament. What can the government do if the court has asked two Congress leaders to appear? Is the Congress party trying to cast aspersions on the judiciary? There is no logic to this and why should Parliament be disrupted? Just because the Congress is the largest opposition party doesn’t give it the right to stall the legislative agenda. The party must live up to its glorious past," said A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst and political science professor at Christ Church College.

Sonia Gandhi told reporters after a meeting of the Congress strategy committee in Parliament that she is not worried by the court’s move.

“I am the daughter-in-law of (former prime minister) Indira Gandhi. I am not scared of anyone, I am not disturbed," she said, adding that she has left it to the courts to decide on the issue.

Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the judgement has no legal basis. “We respectfully say that the judgement is there without any legal basis... I don’t think a grant of loan has anything to do with criminality," he said. “It is the people who will make sure that the Congress will come back with a bang like it has done in the past and that the tide has started to go against the BJP."

While Sonia Gandhi attended Parliament, Rahul is visiting the flood-hit areas in Tamil Nadu.

A metropolitan magistrate on Tuesday accepted their exemption plea seeking deferment from appearing in court after senior Congress leader and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the court that they are “very keen" to come before the court. They are now scheduled to appear for trial on 19 December.

Meanwhile, the BJP said the government has nothing to do with the case. “No political vendetta. A private complaint was lodged. Government had nothing to do with it. The high court has dismissed their case and asked them to go and face trial. Nobody in this country has immunity from law. They can challenge the order in a higher court or face proceedings," said finance minister Arun Jaitley.

He also challenged the Congress party to a debate on the matter in Parliament.

The winter session is slated to end on 23 December. Important bills that could be taken up for discussion include the bankruptcy code bill and amendments to the Reserve Bank of India Act to set up a public debt management authority and a monetary policy committee.

PTI contributed to this story.

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