Even as the government maintained that it was keen on getting the controversial Goods and Services Tax Bill through in the current winter session of Parliament, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, told NDTV on Thursday that for their party, the “three issues” it had red-flagged were non-negotiable.
Asked whether Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had spoken to them on the Bill when he called on them recently, the response was: “The Finance Minister came and called on us separately to give us an invitation for his daughter’s wedding. It was a personal call.”
Meanwhile, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu told journalists that government representatives had spoken to Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge on Wednesday. “They said they would get back in a couple of days,” Mr. Naidu said, without specifying what offer had been made to the Congress, though he stressed: “We are open to suggestion as long as it does not change the basic character of the Bill.”
Sources close to Mr. Jaitley, too, said the Finance Minister was loath to make changes to the draft Bill that might change “its architecture” — an expression that is being read thus far in political circles as indication that the government is unwilling yet to concede ground to the Congress.
The issues which the Congress said it would not compromise on are the 1% tax for manufacturers, the constitutional cap of 18 percent for GST rate and an independent dispute resolution mechanism for GST.
Mr. Naidu maintained that of the 32 political parties who met on Wednesday 30 were on board, but the government did not want to have the Congress on board. However, given that this is a Constitution (Amendment) Bill and therefore requires two-thirds of those present and voting in each of the Houses, it will be difficult for the government to muster the numbers without the support of the Congress and the Left parties in the Rajya Sabha.
Besides, a party like the Janata Dal(United) that is backing the Bill has stated — in the wake of its victory in Bihar — that it will not support the Bill till the government addresses the concerns of the Congress and the Left as it does not want to break Opposition unity.
The government believes the public mood is in favour of the GST Bill and this will force the Congress to blink; the Congress and the Left are waiting to see if the government — particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi — acknowledges that its Ministers erred in the way they spoke on the Dadri lynching and the killing of Dalit children in Haryana.