Less than a week ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government was exuding confidence about dealing with the Opposition parties, especially the Congress, in the Monsoon Session of Parliament that commences on Monday.
The BJP believed that the Congress was on the backfoot after its bruising defeat in Assam and Kerala in the recent Assembly polls. The saffron party was also riding high because it dethroned the Congress in Assam to form its first government in the North East.
Moreover, the National Democratic Alliance’s strength in the Rajya Sabha has gone up after the recent biennial elections. The BJP felt that this would make it easier for it to push through its legislative agenda in the Opposition-dominated Upper House in which its bills were being blocked for the past two years.
In particular, the Modi government has been keen on the early passage of the crucial Goods and Services Tax Bill to get rid of the current patchwork of indirect taxes. But this has run into trouble with the Congress, which has placed three pre-conditions, including a cap of 18% on that tax, before it considers supporting the bill.
The Arunachal rap
However, the dramatic developments in Arunachal Pradesh – which started with the Supreme Court reinstating the Congress government in this northeastern state and ended with the grand old party outsmarting the BJP in regaining power – have proved to be a big setback for the ruling party.
The manner in which the BJP was first pulled up by the apex court and then upstaged by the Congress in Arunachal Pradesh was especially embarrassing for it as these events took place on the eve of the Monsoon Session of Parliament and at a time when party president Amit Shah had launched a mission to deliver a “Congress-mukt North East”.
In this particular instance, the Congress demonstrated that it has not lost its touch in backroom political machinations.
Having scored a victory in Arunachal Pradesh, an upbeat Congress is now set to play the aggressor while other Opposition parties are unlikely to lag behind in putting the government on the mat.
Realising it cannot ride roughshod over the Opposition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stuck a conciliatory note at an all-party meeting called by the government on Sunday.
Appealing to the Opposition for its support in the passage of the GST Bill, Modi told the meeting: “GST is of national importance. The issue is not which government gets credit for it. Important bills, including GST, will be taken up in the Monsoon Session and I am hopeful of meaningful discussions and outcomes.”
Extending an olive branch to the Opposition, Modi added: “All of us represent both the people and parties and let’s keep national interests above everything else.”
Speaking in the same vein, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the government was in talks with the Congress to resolve their differences.
Jaitely had met Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Jyotiraditya Scindia last week in an effort to break the impasse over the GST bill.
The Congress is insisting that a cap on the GST rate be included in the bill but Jaitley is resisting this demand on the plea that the government would have to approach Parliament each time it wanted to revise the tax rate.
While the ruling alliance maintains it is working out a compromise, the Congress is in no hurry to give its consent. “We are waiting for the government to come out with a concrete draft proposal to our demands,” Scindia said on Sunday.
While behind-the-scenes parleys on the GST Bill will continue in the coming days and may even be settled amicably, the Congress is getting ready to flag the Arunachal Pradesh developments, among other issues, to keep the NDA government’s floor managers on their toes.
This is the second time the Supreme Court has pulled up the Modi government in successive Parliament sessions for misusing Constitutional provisions in Opposition-ruled states.
The ruling alliance was similarly embarrassed in the Budget Session of Parliament when the apex court restored the Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand. A bruised Central government had put up a brave face then and will have to do so again.
The BJP has not only to contend with an aggressive Opposition, it also has to tiptoe around its allies.
The government came in for a rude shock on Saturday when Sukhbir Badal, Punjab’s deputy chief minister and head of the Shromani Akali Dal, a BJP ally, charged the Centre, at an inter-state council meeting, of usurping the powers of states and indulging in “Constitutional rampage.”
This is not good news for the BJP since Punjab Assembly elections are due early next year.
Though a surcharged Opposition does not plan to disrupt proceedings unnecessarily, it wants to corner the government through substantive debates.
The ongoing troubles in the Kashmir Valley and India’s deteriorating relationship with Pakistan, New Delhi’s failure to secure a berth in the Nuclear Supplier’s Group, and China’s growing aggression vis-à-vis India are among the issues identified by the Opposition to highlight how the government has failed on the domestic and international fronts.
While the Congress is getting ready to grill the Modi government inside Parliament, its frontal organisations, including the Youth Congress and Mahila Congress plan to gherao Parliament on July 20 to protest the increase in the prices of essential commodities.