Photo: Hindustan Times
Parliament of India. Photo: Hindustan Times

New Delhi: In a surprise development, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on Thursday reached out afresh to the Congress to strike a compromise to enable the passage of the constitutional bill to implement the goods and services tax (GST) and to advance the upcoming budget session, if required.

The government has also sought the party’s support to pass the real estate bill. According to senior ministers, the government is ready to accept most of the suggestions made by the Congress on the real estate bill.

Not only does the outreach reflect a more conciliatory approach by the government, it also signals a recalibration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his engagement with the opposition, which so far has been acrimonious.

Unlike in the past, the Congress, too, did not reject the government’s offer outright. Instead, it signalled its willingness to compromise, provided the government offers middle ground.

Union parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday morning at her residence, where he sought the party’s support to pass the GST and real estate bills.

“We had (earlier) met the Congress president and Manmohan Singh on GST and several other issues. In the same regard I met Congress president Sonia Gandhi today and reminded her that the Congress party should take a stand depending on what we talked last time,” Naidu told reporters.

“I told her that a quick decision should be taken and we should move forward on both GST and real estate bills. She said they will discuss it and take a stand on it,” he added.

He also told Gandhi that the government was willing to advance the budget session of Parliament.

A senior leader of the Congress, who did not wish to be identified, said that while the meeting could not be seen as “forward movement” on the legislation, the party was glad that the government was “at least reaching out” to it.

“The Congress president has said that we will discuss the issue within the party. The negotiation process is still on. A middle ground may be reached on the 18% revenue-neutral-rate (in the GST) if the government offers a compromise. If it happens, then the Congress party will deliberate on it and take a call,” the leader said.

However, officially the Congress continued to strike a strident note.

“What proposal? There is no proposal from the government side. If he had to accept our demands why would finance minister Arun Jaitley say that shrinking Congress strength in Rajya Sabha will make GST happen,” Congress politician Kapil Sibal told reporters when asked whether the government had accepted the demands of Congress and sent any proposal to Gandhi through Naidu.

Both the monsoon session and winter session of Parliament last year saw very little legislative business being transacted following repeated disruptions of proceedings by the Congress, especially in the Rajya Sabha.

During the winter session, Modi invited Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh for tea to discuss the session including the GST bill; however, the move failed to break the ice.

Senior ministers in the government said Gandhi had informed Naidu that she will talk to her party colleagues in this regard and revert.

“The government has again reached out to the Congress party seeking cooperation in early passage of long-pending legislations relating to introduction of goods and services taxes and real estate regulator. The government has urged the Congress party to enable early passage of these bills and the government is willing to advance the ensuing budget session of Parliament based on the response of Congress party,” said a senior minister on condition of anonymity.

“The government may not have anticipated obstruction from Congress. Given the fact that it is the last chance before the end of the financial year, the government has approached the Congress party once again. It is a welcome move by the government,” said A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst and political science professor at Christ Church College.

“The government has made a tactical move to pass crucial legislation; neither the government nor the opposition have become soft towards each other. If the prime minister can approach Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to solve issues, the government can talk to the opposition parties to pass bills,” he added.

GST is expected to remove barriers to trade across states and integrate the country into a common market, reducing business costs and boosting government revenue.

The indirect tax would replace existing levies such as excise duty, service tax and value-added tax.

The real estate bill envisages the creation of a regulator empowered to penalize and prosecute errant property developers and make the sector more transparent, accountable and consumer-friendly.