Updated: August 3, 2016 9:17:02 am
A day after the Congress issued a whip and offered its “shubhkamna” (good wishes) for the passage of the goods and services tax (GST) Bill which is listed for Rajya Sabha Wednesday, sparks flew at a party meeting on the issue, suggesting a divide between its Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members on the way it was negotiated with the government.
At a meeting in Parliament House, where Congress MPs were briefed Tuesday on the amended Bill by former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and former Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, several members objected to the manner in which the party held talks with the government and took the decision to support the Constitutional Amendment Bill, saying they were not consulted during the process.
Sources said some senior Congress members of Lok Sabha said they were not kept in the loop on the GST decision. Members wanted to know that if the party had to finally support GST, why did it keep opposing it for two years, sources said.
Rajni Patil, Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra, was said to have asked how was she going to explain to voters why her party did not press for the GST rate to be capped at 18 per cent in the Constitution. She said the Congress should now aggressively tell people it did not obstruct the Bill for political reasons, sources said.
Some other Lok Sabha members said it is they who go to the people and how will they explain why the party decided to support the Bill after opposing it for two years.
The meeting was attended by over three dozen members from both Houses including Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge and M Veerappa Moily.
As members raised concerns, Rahul Gandhi asked Chidambaram and Sharma to explain how and why was the decision taken to support the Constitutional Amendment Bill. Kharge and Moily, sources said, raised certain concerns.
Also read | Goods and Services Tax, explained
When his comments were sought later, Anand Sharma said “no concerns” were raised but “clarifications” were sought.
“We are a democratic party. When members attend a meeting on any crucial issue, they are bound to express views. That is why meetings are called. Some academic clarifications were sought and the issues were explained. Meetings in Congress are not monologues. MPs will ask clarifications,” Sharma said.
Members were told that states, which are stakeholders in the GST Bill, were not in favour of putting the 18 per cent cap in the Constitutional Amendment Bill. It was, therefore, agreed to put that in the enabling legislation which will come later, and the states, being members of the GST council, will have a say in it.
Some members said Congress leaders should speak in Hindi on the issue, and not English, for common people to understand. The party, sources said, is likely to field some leaders who are fluent in Hindi and understand the subject to speak on the matter when the Bill comes to the Rajya Sabha.
To bring the Congress on board, the government last week cleared changes in the Constitutional Amendment Bill including doing away with the additional 1 per cent tax by producing states and compensating all states for any revenue loss in the first five years post the GST rollout.
The Cabinet did not, however, accede to the main Congress demand of specifying the GST rate in the Constitution itself. It is likely to be part of the Bill that will be legislated separately by both the Centre and states.
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