New Delhi: The countdown to the possible passage of the constitutional amendment bill to roll out the goods and services tax (GST) has begun well for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar coming out in its support. Kumar’s support came a day after the business advisory committee (BAC) allotted five hours for the Rajya Sabha to discuss the bill. Meanwhile, the NDA has reached out afresh to the Congress to forge a consensus.

“The passage of GST is in the interest of the country. We support GST and have favoured it since the beginning," Kumar told reporters in Delhi on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Kumar met with finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Significantly, Kumar’s party, the Janata Dal (United), or the JD(U), was previously reluctant to support the legislation, aimed at dismantling inter-state barriers to trade.

Senior ministers in the government and members of the NDA say that the delay in presenting the bill in Rajya Sabha is because there’s no clear message emerging from the Congress.

“The government is talking to two sets of Congress leaders. One group is reasonable and has agreed to pass the bill at the earliest, while the second group is not keen," said a senior leader of the NDA who asked not to be identified.

Although the NDA has not made it clear when it wants to present the bill in the Rajya Sabha during the monsoon session, it has begun consultations with both alliance partners and opposition parties.

Senior leaders of the NDA met to reaffirm their support for the bill, and during the parliamentary party meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday, party leaders expressed hope that the bill would be passed.

The NDA believes that with the support of 72 Members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to non-Congress parties and 15 nominated and independent MPs, the NDA, with its own 72 MPs, has a good chance of reaching 163, the two-thirds mark required to pass the Constitution amendment to the GST bill in the 245-member Rajya Sabha.

To reach that number, though, it will need support from at least some members of parties that have hitherto opposed the deal.

“The government has reached out to our party and it is a part of the ongoing talks. Unless we hear from the government as to what they are going to do about our concerns, it is difficult to respond on what the outcome of the talks will be," a senior Congress leader and member of Rajya Sabha said on condition of anonymity.

The Congress is scheduled to hold a meeting of its parliamentary party on Wednesday and is likely to discuss the legislation. Officially, it is still hedging its bets.

“This bill will bring sweeping changes in the taxation structure, the manner in which indirect taxes are levied, which include excise, service tax, and also the sales tax or VAT (value-added tax). We need to have clarity about the levies of these taxes," Anand Sharma, deputy leader of Congress in Rajya Sabha, said at a press conference on Monday.

Although the NDA is in a minority in the upper House, it has managed to split the opposition by winning support for the GST from regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party, which has 19 MPs, Bahujan Samaj Party (6), JD(U) (10), Nationalist Congress Party (5) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (3).

The government already has the support of 12 MPs of the Trinamool Congress and eight of the Biju Janata Dal.

The only large political party which is still opposed to the idea of GST is the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. The Left parties have said that they will move amendments to the proposed bill to raise their concerns.

Political analysts say that dialogue is a positive development, given the recent acrimony.

“The dialogue process has started and it is a positive step. It will not only reduce the chances of a futile Parliament session but it will also help government change the notion that it is not talking to opposition parties. It is a good move by the government to push its reform agenda to pass important bills," said A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst and political science professor at Christ Church College.

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