In another sign of the Trinamool Congress’s changed attitude since Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with Narendra Modi last month, it is set to break opposition ranks on at least two key constitution amendments: the land boundary agreement and GST.
After the government reached out to the West Bengal chief minister — Union ministers Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu have spoken to Mamata over phone, her party says — the Trinamool is set to support the bill for a land boundary agreement with Bangladesh, glossing over the move of keeping Assam out of that agreement, and despite feelers from the Congress. On Thursday, Congress leaders reached out to the Trinamool but they were reportedly told the party would go with the government on this.
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The Trinamool is understood to have negotiated with the government that if a rehabilitation package for displaced people is announced in Sushma’s opening remarks when the bill is introduced, it will not press for amendments. The Trinamool has done that twice earlier, with the coal mines bill and the mines & minerals bill. Subsequently, on the bill hiking the FDI limit for insurance, the party had staged a walkout.
On GST, though opposition parties led by the Congress are in favour of a select committee examining the bill, the Trinamool maintains GST is one of its manifesto commitments and it would honour it. The West Bengal government has already received two cheques totalling about Rs 1,000 crore as compensation for central sales tax.
“The government has reached out to us, both the foreign minister and the parliamentary affairs minister have spoken to the Bengal chief minister on this, and they have agreed to our demand that the rehabilitation package for displaced people would be announced in the opening remarks of the foreign minister when she introduces the bill,” said Trinamool spokesman Derek O’Brien.
“We will not insist on its inclusion in the bill as rehabilitation package is a matter between the Centre and the state,” O’Brien said. “An assurance on the floor of the House is good enough.”
There is a back story to the Congress-Trinamool dynamics on LBA. The party, which had refused to let the UPA’s bill through without a rehab package, had been upset by then foreign minister Salman Khurhid who had reportedly refused point blank. The party had also felt affronted when UPA had sent then national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, rather than a minister, as its emissary to discuss LBA with Mamata.
O’Brien described GST as a reform bill. “It should be passed without further delay. It is our manifesto commitment,” he said, unwilling to back the call for a select committee.