Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) and other leaders at an all-party meeting ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament on Sunday. Photo: PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre) and other leaders at an all-party meeting ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament on Sunday. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged an all-party meeting on Sunday to pass the constitutional amendment bill for the goods and services tax (GST), as members of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) claimed the government was close to mustering the majority needed to do so in the Upper House.

“We represent both the people and our political parties. We must keep national interests above everything else,” Modi told the meeting called on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament.

“Important bills including GST will be taken up in monsoon session. I urge all political parties for constructive discussions and outcomes during the session. Passing the GST bill is in national interest, there should be no issue of which government should take credit for the important bill,” Modi told the meeting, according to a government statement.

Senior ministers are of the view that all bills, including the GST, should be passed through consultation and debate and that there should be an attempt to build consensus over the crucial bill.

During the meeting, Modi also thanked political parties on recent events in Jammu and Kashmir, saying, “various parties have given statements on Kashmir events which benefitted the country. This has sent a right message and I thank all the parties for the same.”

The NDA has rejigged its team handling parliamentary affairs in the recent cabinet reshuffle— Ananth Kumar is the new parliamentary affairs minister and S.S. Ahluwalia is minister of state along with Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Senior ministers believe that the new team will be able to get the crucial bills passed, with ministers having already reached out to all political parties over the matter.

Members of the NDA indicate that with the support of 72 Members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to non-Congress parties and 15 nominated and independent MPs, the NDA, with its own 72 MPs, has a good chance of reaching 163, the two-third mark required to pass the constitution amendment to the GST bill in the 245-member Rajya Sabha.

“All parties are holding discussions regarding the GST bill, we want consensus to be developed on that. Congress assured they will support bills on the basis of merit,” parliamentary affairs minister Kumar said.

“We have not taken any decision that we have to stop a bill,” said Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.

“We will support bills only on merit and not that every bill which the government brings. We will support a bill which is in support of people, progress, industry and growth. Definitely, such bills will be passed on merit,” said Azad, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, after the meeting.

Although the NDA is in a minority in the Upper House, it has managed to divide the opposition by winning support for the GST from regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party which has 19 MPs, Bahujan Samaj Party (6), Janata Dal (United) (10), Nationalist Congress Party (5) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (3). The government has already got a go-ahead from the 12 MPs of the Trinamool Congress and eight of the Biju Janata Dal.

The only large political party, which is still opposed to the idea of the GST is All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which rules Tamil Nadu.

The Left parties have said that they will move amendments to the proposed bill to raise their concerns.

“We have been requesting the government for the last two years to call an all-party meet to discuss GST bill and listen to the concerns of different political parties and build consensus. As far as the GST bill is concerned, it’s not a matter to be settled bilaterally between the BJP and Congress,” said Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Apart from GST, bills likely to be taken up for passage are the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Bill 2015, and the Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Some of the crucial bills before the Rajya Sabha are the Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill 2015, the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Bill 2016, and the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2013.

The government is also likely to push for passage of a bill to replace an ordinance that it promulgated to amend the Enemy Property Act as well as a bill to replace another ordinance on the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET).

P.J. Kurien, deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, said he was hopeful the upcoming session will be productive. “I hope the monsoon session will be a fruitful and productive one. The last session was also productive and a number of bills were passed. I hope this session is productive too, and the opposition parties get enough time to air their views,” Kurien said.

Opposition parties are, however, all set to corner the NDA on what they call the government’s attempts to destabilize elected state governments, pointing to recent constitutional crises in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The issue figured prominently in an inter-state council meeting on Saturday.

During the all-party meeting, leaders from several opposition parties, including the Left, raised the issue but the strongest attack came from the Congress which said opposition-ruled states no longer trust the Union government.

“Until the Union government and opposition-led state governments don’t have trust on each other, if the government uses governors to topple state governments whether its Uttarakhand or Arunachal Pradesh. They used all the tricks…state governments no longer trust the union government,” Azad said.

The Congress party is also going to raise the Kashmir issue in the session and has demanded that the government respond to it. India’s failure to secure the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership and the government seeking a report from the Law Commission on the proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC) are also likely to put the government in a difficult position.

“As far as this session is concerned, I think the BJP has gained the support of other non-Congress opposition parties to pass key legislation, especially the GST bill. I think there is a strong possibility of GST being passed in this session; however, the Congress party may continue to play a negative role in the session,” said S.K. Dwivedi, political analyst, and former head of the department of political science at Lucknow University.

“It does not look like the Congress party wants to play the role of a constructive opposition as is evident from the past few sessions. Both Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh will resonate keenly in this session and the government is bound to be cornered on it,” he added.