The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sparred – but amicably – as behind the scenes negotiations went on to work out a via media on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) constitution amendment bill as Parliament opened for the winter session today.
There was no repeat of the monsoon session – in the sense that nobody from either side of the house tried to shout down speakers – but the two day session to remember BR Ambedkar’s contribution to the Constitution on his 125th birth anniversary was a way by both the Congress and the BJP to restate political positions.
“It took three years to write the Constitution. There were serious debates on it and the Constitution Committee was guided by four eminent personalities at all levels -- Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Maulana Azad. When Dr Ambedkar was chosen to head the committee he asked, 'why me, when there are people better qualified to lead?' But he was still chosen to head the committed. That's where the Congress Party's discipline comes in," said Sonia Gandhi, sniping at the BJP about the rebellion of Mardarshak Mandal. "Constitution is result of decades of struggle. Mahatma Gandhi made a huge contribution in this struggle. After serious debates, the Constitution was written and I can say that the history of the Constitution is closely linked to the Congress," she said.
She looked at Narendra Modi and smiled sarcastically. He smiled back.
But Home Minister Rajnath Singh who spoke on behalf of the government, made his point when he said two changes were introduced in the Constitution which can never be undone: the introduction of the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’. “What’s done is done. These words can never be changed,” Singh said, leaving no one in any doubt that he and his party differed with this description of India. But he added: "Our Government is completely committed to Constitution. I feel all MPs must abide by the Constitutional morality. Whoever is born in India is an Indian," he said, another indirect dig at Sonia Gandhi’s nationality.
Early in the day, it became clear that while there would be no disruption, the opposition was not going to take anything lying down. Rajya Sabha was adjourned after obituary references as a sitting member from Nagaland had died during the inter-session period. In the morning, PM in brief remarks outside Parliament said political battles should not be brought inside Parliament - suggesting while efforts were on, there was still no consensus on GST and other legislation.