Congress still holds the aces on GST Bill


Despite BJP gaining four more seats in Rajya Sabha, backing of principal Opposition party needed.


It will not be the changed Rajya Sabha arithmetic in the monsoon session, but a fresh round of negotiations with the Congress that will make it possible for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government to push through the Constitution (122) Amendment Bill, needed to roll out the Goods and Services Tax (GST) across the country.


Indicating as much, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley made overtures to the Congress last week in Parliament. Urging the party to reconsider its opposition to the Bill, he said: “[W]hen we meet in the monsoon session, it is time we reconsidered our positions. We want all parties to be on board. But if not, please allow the parliamentary process of decision-making by debate and voting to take place.”


In the monsoon session, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will add at least another four Rajya Sabha members to its current tally of 49, while the principal opposition party, the Congress, could lose about five from its present strength of 64.


However, this will not be enough for the government to push the Bill, unless every party in the Rajya Sabha, barring the Congress, lines up behind the NDA.


This is because a constitutional amendment Bill requires the support of two-thirds of the members of the House.

Larger opposition

Currently, apart from the Congress, there are other parties that are either ideologically opposed to the BJP or have issues with the Bill. These include the Janata Dal(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, both allies of the Congress, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which has problems with the Bill in its current form. Finally, there is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that is looking ahead to the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 and may not want to be seen voting with the BJP. In the recent crisis in Uttarakhand, the BSP voted for the Congress for precisely this reason.


Even after the constitutional amendment Bill is approved by Parliament, it will have to be ratified by half the State legislatures. So, it is not just the composition of the Rajya Sabha that the government will have to consider now but also whether the political dynamics change after the results of the Assembly polls in five States come in on May 19.

Impact of Assembly polls

For instance, if a Left-Congress combine replaces the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Left — which had voted in favour of the Bill in the Lok Sabha — may be constrained by the position of its junior partner in the State. Similarly, if the DMK-Congress alliance forms a government in Tamil Nadu, the Centre could be in a position to drop the proposed 1 per cent additional GST rate, which is one of the three points of disagreement between the BJP and the Congress on the Bill, as it was introduced mainly to bring on board the incumbent Jayalalithaa government.


The NDA government will, therefore, have to wait till a clear picture emerges after the counting of votes on May 19 to see if it is going to have to renegotiate the consensus on its GST proposal with the States where the Assembly polls results will be declared.


In the Rajya Sabha last week, responding to the Congress’s demands, Mr. Jaitley said the government was in talks with the States to do away with the 1 per cent additional levy on supply of goods and services, but added that the Congress’s insistence on capping the tax rate at 18 per cent in the Constitution was not feasible. He also opposed the party’s suggestion for an independent dispute resolution authority, headed by a judge.


The passage of the Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha, has been delayed with the Congress demanding changes in it, though it is the party that introduced the legislation in Parliament first. The GST, which will subsume all indirect taxes into a single levy, is an ambitious reform intended to unify the country into a common market.


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