Last Thursday, 17 Opposition parties came together to field a joint candidate for the Presidential elections. Just one week later, barely hours to go for the midnight GST session in Parliament, their unity stood shattered.
Fingers are now being pointed at the main Opposition Congress, which dithered over and delayed the decision on attending the session, resulting in key allies such as NCP, SP, BSP and JD(S) breaking ranks. The JD(U) had already indicated that it would attend the session.
The Congress was not alone, with the TMC, Left parties, RJD and DMK also staying away from the central hall event, but the faultlines within the Opposition grouping stood exposed. And that too, at a time when it is gearing to put up a strong contest in the vice-presidential elections.
In fact, even those who had not openly stated their position, such as TRS and BJD, were present at the midnight session.
The NCP, the Congress’s all-weather ally in Maharashtra, said the senior partner delayed in reaching out to it, as party chief Sharad Pawar and his daughter and MP Supriya Sule attended the function.
The JD(S) is nursing a similar grievance. Assembly elections in Karnataka are less than a year away and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s presence at the event organised by the NDA government could now be open to interpretation.
The Samajwadi Party, which initially decided to boycott the event, did a somersault and attended the function in a setback for the Congress — representing the party were Ram Gopal Yadav and Naresh Agrawal.
Speaking to The Indian Express, senior NCP leader Tariq Anwar said the Congress contacted Pawar after it announced the decision to stay away Thursday. “It was conveyed to them that we cannot take the decision at the last stage as it will not be appropriate. They should have discussed this earlier,” he said.
Anwar shared the Congress’s view that the event was a publicity gimmick. “The GST Bill was unanimously passed in Parliament. We had also supported it. But there was no need for this function. We condemn the attempt to dramatise it by organising a midnight event,” he said.
But Anwar added that the party decided to attend because it had “supported GST from the beginning”. “It is a U-turn by the BJP and Narendra Modi…they had been opposing it. And now they are celebrating. They have always shown double standards,” he said.
Anwar also insisted that Opposition unity would remain intact. “It is not a big issue… we are also opposing the hurried implementation of the GST,” he said.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad called former prime minister Gowda as well, and told him that he should not attend the event for the sake of larger Opposition unity. By then, it was too late.
Sources said Finance Minister Arun Jaitely, meanwhile, spoke to Ram Gopal Yadav and used his personal rapport with the SP leader to convince him to change the party’s stand.
“When Parliament has passed the Bill, why shouldn’t we be here? Both the sides came together and passed the Bill,” said Yadav.
Defending his party’s position, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said “every political party has its own perspective”.
“The Congress has taken its decision…Other Opposition parties have taken their decisions — TMC has taken the decision, the Left and the DMK have taken their decisions. It is not a matter of controversy. The Congress had not put forward any condition before any party,” said Sharma.
“When we are talking of not endorsing or participating in trivialising the sanctity and seriousness of the midnight session in the Central Hall, it should not be taken that we are rejecting the GST. We have supported it, we have facilitated it. But that does not mean that we become, as a serious political party, a party to the violation of traditions, and institutional dignity and sanctity,” he said.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who is abroad, also joined the debate — but on Twitter. “A reform that holds great potential is being rushed through in a half-baked way with a self-promotional spectacle,” he posted. He said India deserves a GST rollout that does not put crores of ordinary citizens, small businesses and traders through pain and anxiety.
Hitting out at the Congress, MP Amar Singh said, “I don’t understand why they have boycotts. Why did they vote for GST in Parliament then? If the Congress swings like this, it will be reduced to a pendulum in Indian politics.”