On the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar walked right into the Parliament chamber of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, to build a consensus on the GST legislation. The Central government is all out to capitalise on the Congress’s willingness to look afresh at the Goods and Services Tax Bill by reaching out, literally, to the principal Opposition party.
Azad and Congress’s Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, had exchanged notes and proposals with Jaitley during the meeting that has lasted for almost an hour. They agreed to return to the negotiating table after holding discussions with their respective leaderships, indicating that some concrete proposals were exchanged.
Jaitley said that the government is trying to build a consensus on GST. “We have discussed all the points and once the monsoon session starts, we will meet again after discussing the issue within our respective parties,” he said.
Azad agreed, that the meeting was just “preliminary”. “We gave our point of view, they gave their point of view. Whatever apprehensions or suggestions we had we have given, whatever they had they have given. Now we will get back to our leadership. They will also be discussing with their leadership, after which we will have a second meeting during the Parliament session,” he said.
The BJP-led government is keen on pushing its fiscal reform agenda, the Congress has been nursing a grouse that the BJP, while in opposition, had tried to block its legislative business. Consequently, party leaders believe, the Congress’s performance suffered.
The BJP has been optimistic on the bill for a variety of reasons. It believes that the Congress would not want to be seen as blocking a measure that seeks to benefit most states, including those governed by itself and its allies like Nitish Kumar.
Congress runs the risk of isolation, considering that West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC president Mamata Banerjee, and Kerala’s CPI(M) Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan have indicated their readiness to support the bill. Although Vijayan had later been rebuffed by the national leadership of the CPI(M), there is a strong sentiment in favour of the bill within the party. Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) has already announced its support for the bill.
Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said that the government is “very keen” to take the GST bill forward during the ensuing Parliament session and expressed confidence that it will be approved. “We are holding discussions with all our friends. We are confident that the GST bill will be approved,” he said.