By Ruma Dubey
The truth is hard to swallow if you're choking on your pride.
That is the state of the ruling govt. It is probably aware of the truth – it needs to come down and talk to the Opposition, especially the Congress, if it wants to get some work done in this Winter Session of the Parliament, which begins on 25th Nov. The defeat it received in the Bihar polls and the poor show in the past sessions of the Parliament where no work got done, the pressure is high on the Govt to get some Bills passed this session. Or else, the kind of drubbing it might receive threatens to bring down a curtain on all the adulation and admiration which people had showered on Modi for the past two years. This Winter Session is a do-or-die and the Govt has to eat its pride, talk to the very people whom it virtually hates, berates all the time and find a middle path.
The passing of the GST is so very essential for the Govt. It would be too dramatic to say that its survival hinges on the passing of this Bill. But yes, it could raise questions about its ability to perform, whether it is better than UPA or how is it any different from the other past govts. The slow process of disenchantment has already begun but if this session also proves to be a washout, well, the process of faith breaking-up will also begin. And nothing sounds shriller than the breaking of trust.
So realistically speaking, how do things look, how much ice does the BJP need to break? The Congress has 44 Lok Sabha seats, RJD has four and JD has two out of the 543 total seats. In the Rajya Sabha, Congress has 80 seats, RJD has one and JD has 12 of the total 242 seats. This clearly means that together, they can block the proceedings of the Parliament and unless the BJP meets and talks to the leaders, builds a consensus, it might have to bear a very cold winter session.
The BJP does know these hard facts more than anyone else. It knows that it has to come mid-way and concede to the demands of Congress which is demanding changes in the GST – it is asking the rate to be neutral, to be capped at 18% and do away with the additional levy of 1% tax, over and above the GST. It also wants a grievance redressal council to be set up for all states. This is not too tall a compromise as a report by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy had also indicated a revenue-neutral rate of 18-19% in case of a single GST rate. Going by the whispers in the corridors of power in Delhi, it seems like the BJP might agree to this demand of Congress.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is canvassing very hard for the passage of this Bill and orderly functioning of the Parliament. On 18th Nov, he met Rahul Gandhi and various other party leaders across the divide. Jaitley’s daughter is scheduled to get married next month and he is using the golden opportunity of extending an invitation to all, while using the same to build a bridge to get the GST passed.
This Winter Session is extremely critical to show to the world that India and Modi are extremely serious about pushing ahead full throttle with economic reforms. Merely going around the world and talking about the prowess of India is not enough; we need to show that we are serious about getting the country to work. The BJP played this game of blocking the Parliament when the UPA was in power and now UPA is doing the same. But in this tu-tu-main-main game of politics, the country is losing.
The Parliament has to once again become a place where constructive debates happen, where leaders behave like gentlemen and Bills are passed. That dignity of the Parliament also needs to be restored.
It would be best if Modi can now start looking homewards, look at the crisis of confidence building up within the country and work towards building this consensus, instead of leaving it all to Jaitley. He needs to work on breaking this deadlock or else no legislative reform will ever get passed and the dream which he is selling to FIIs could come crumbling down.
Let’s all pray to Guru Nanakji tomorrow and hope better sense prevails and this Winter Session gets going…