Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, keeping hopes alive for the enactment of the Goods and Services Tax Bill before the beginning of the next financial year.
The 45-minute meeting at 7, Race Course Road did not result in an immediate breakthrough, but it did serve to break the ice between the government and the Congress, with the latter consistently alleging that the ruling party was riding roughshod over the Opposition in Parliament. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu were also present during the meeting.
Sonia reiterated her party’s three main demands — 18 per cent cap on the tax, formation of a GST Disputes Settlement Authority and scrapping of the proposed one per cent additional tax that ends up favouring producer states. The government presented its viewpoint with facts and figures.
While the government would review its standpoint keeping in mind the Congress’s views, Sonia did not make any commitment and told Modi that she would discuss the government’s proposal internally within her party. A second meeting is likely to take place next week.
Sources close to the PM termed the meeting as “average, but a good beginning”. Congress sources said it was a “constructive engagement” and “work in progress”. Asked why the differences could not be resolved, a source close to the PM said, “The Congress is quite cautious of its image. They feel that if they agree to the PM’s request and the GST Bill is passed, the PM will get full credit for it.”
Jaitley said the discussions centred around issues before Parliament, particularly pending ones. On GST, Jaitley said, “The history and background of the legislation and the government’s response to the three issues (raised by the Congress) were explained to them. The Congress party leaders will discuss this internally. We have also taken note of their positions. A fresh contact will be made after some time.” Congress leader Anand Sharma said Sonia and Singh told the government that “we are the original authors of the GST”.
The Modi-Sonia meeting did not happen without serious back-channel efforts. Jaitley himself had sounded out both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi last week about the PM’s desire to personally involve himself to break the GST logjam. He sounded out Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma that the PM was open to meeting the Gandhis. From his side, Modi is learnt to have told both Naidu and Jaitley during a meeting of the BJP parliamentary executive that the ministers should reach out to all key leaders in the Opposition. On Thursday evening, Modi himself invited Sonia and Singh for tea at his residence.
Read full article: Indian Express