On completion of its two years in office, a euphoric Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has asserted that the goods and services tax (GST) Bill will be taken up in the monsoon session of Parliament and passed even without the help of the Congress. The government is banking on help from regional parties and rejigged numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Also bolstering the government's hopes was the support announced by the Trinamool Congress for the GST Bill, soon after its victory in the Assembly polls.
With 55 members set to retire from the Rajya Sabha, 15 states will be electing Members of Parliament (MPs) to the Upper House. Incidentally, this does not include Assam, Kerala and West Bengal where Assembly polls were recently held.
Uttar Pradesh (11 seats), Tamil Nadu (six) and Maharashtra (six), Bihar (five), Andhra Pradesh (four), Karnataka (four), and Rajasthan (four) are among the states that will conduct elections to the Upper House. The BJP has 15 MPs retiring and stands to improve its tally from 49 to 53. Of the 13 seats the Congress will vacate, it is likely to be re-elected to nine, bringing its number down to 60. It will continue to be the single largest party in the House.
The BJP is confident that barring the Congress, most other political parties of the Opposition side will extend support to the landmark constitutional amendment for a GST.
However, J Jayalalithaa-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is strongly opposed to the Bill but the BJP is hopeful that the AIADMK might abstain from voting, bringing down the required two-thirds majority mark or the magic number required to pass the GST Bill. The number required to pass the Bill in a House of 242 members is 162. Since GST is seen as inimical to Tamil Nadu's interests, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), too, would oppose the Bill in all likelihood, though the party has only six MPs.
Given the numbers, the government would be able to get the Bill passed but it would be a close shave, unless it can bring the DMK on board.
The Congress has been demanding that the government give in to its demand of capping the GST rate and including the same in the Bill. If the Congress continues its opposition, it would end up being isolated and risk a loss of face, if the Bill was to get cleared despite its opposition.
Senior Congress leaders concede that being the original creators of the GST, they are not opposed to it but the final call will be taken by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi.
Attacking the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government over its handling of the economy, Congress party leaders on Saturday asked it to pluck up courage to go for bold reforms, saying the party will engage with the government if it means business. On the GST Bill, Chidambaram had said, the government has failed to engage the Congress party over the three principal objections raised by it. "Either the government should convince us that our objections are unfounded or government must accept our objections if they are well founded and bring about amendments. Such an engagement, such a dialogue, to best of my knowledge, has not taken place across the table," he had said.
Despite the numbers being favourable, the government will have to ensure that the Congress does not disturb proceedings in Parliament, as it is an essential requirement for the passage of a constitutional amendment legislation.