An hour-long late evening meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday at his 7, Race Course Road residence failed to end the impasse on the controversial Goods and Services Tax Bill that has been hanging fire for long.
But with a conversation taking place at the highest possible level for the first time, it finally broke the ice between the government and the principal Opposition party — and held out some hope of an agreement .
Indeed, emerging from the discussions, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that there would be a second meeting on the subject shortly after both sides had another round of internal confabulations. After the Congress leaders put forward their position on the draft Bill, sticking to their three oft-stated objections to it, Mr Jaitley said he explained its history and background as well as their response.
Work in progress
Later in the evening, Congress Deputy Leader in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma told journalists, “It was a constructive engagement, but it is a work in progress.”
Stressing that the party’s position on the Bill — that it wanted the 1 per cent surcharge for manufacturing States to be scrapped, a cap of 18 per cent on the GST tax, and the creation of a grievance redressal mechanism — were “neither partisan nor political”, he said the Congress was not “bargaining” for anything. Indeed, the significance of Friday’s meeting lay not in what was achieved but in the government’s realisation that if it wished to move its economic reforms agenda forward, it needed to abandon its confrontationist position and make a conciliatory gesture, especially as it comes on the heels of a massive defeat in the recent Bihar election, that has pumped new energy into the Opposition.
It was also the first face-to-face meeting between Mr. Modi and Ms. Gandhi since last year’s landslide victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the general elections.
In fact, the Finance Minsiter also said that Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu — who was also present at the meeting — would henceforth be in regular touch with Congress Leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, about pending legislative business.
There is nothing new about this, but the fact that it was mentioned, indicates that the government has realised it is not doing enough currently to engage the Opposition.