Government faces ‘Rahul hurdle’

Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. The Narendra Modi government is unable to reach out to Mr. Gandhi.  

The return of Congress president Sonia Gandhi from her trip abroad on Sunday has made the government optimistic enough to list the Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2014 in this week’s business in the Rajya Sabha, even as its floor managers lament that the government still does not have a “handle” on how to deal with the man whose word will weigh the most in breaking this impasse — Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Indeed, it seems that the ruling BJP has a bit of a “Rahul” problem, in that, while older networks between senior leaders of both parties are active, the current leadership in the BJP has no channel of communication with the junior Mr. Gandhi.

The invitation for tea, extended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi a few days ago was an icebreaker that had been much awaited. It signalled that both sides wanted to move away from their year-long attitudes accruing from the results of the general elections of 2014. Triumphalism on one side, and bitterness on the other. It was also, in the words of one senior government Minister, an “attempt to combine wisdom, as in Dr. Manmohan Singh with regard to GST, and authority over the Congress that vested with Sonia Gandhi.”

Except that some of that authority seems vested with Mr. Gandhi and nobody in the government has been talking to him. “Parliamentary strategy seems to be run by Mr. Gandhi and his advisors, his very harsh speech in the Lok Sabha on the tolerance debate and targeting General V.K. Singh in the Rajya Sabha are pointers that he wants this parliamentary disarray to continue,” said the source.

The government’s only hope, according to strategists is that senior leaders in the party may persuade Mr. Gandhi that obstructionism on the GST could isolate the Congress in the Opposition ranks. “Most smaller parties are on board on the GST,” said the source. Sources in the Congress said that in internal meetings as of now, Mr. Gandhi is more interested in cornering the government than helping it pass India’s biggest tax reform measure in the recent years. Its parliamentary party leader Mallikarjuna Kharge was snubbed twice when he tried to raise the issue with Mr. Gandhi in internal meetings last week. “Let’s see,” was all Mr. Gandhi said on the GST in response to Mr Kharge, according to sources.

With the Congress set to meet on Tuesday to firm up its position on the GST Bill post the tea party hosted by the Prime Minister, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the government to work up those telephone lines.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 5:46:30 PM |

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