A united opposition is set to corner the government over the issue of intolerance in the Winter Session of Parliament beginning on Thursday but the prospects of a thaw on the crucial GST Bill brightened with both sides expressing preparedness for discussing it.
Opposition is likely to press for a resolution to condemn the alleged rise in intolerance, a demand unlikely to be conceded by the government, which instead prefers a debate, seeking to project incidents like Dadri lynching as law and order issues pertaining to states.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said though the government does not agree with the perception of rising intolerance, “we are willing to go along with Opposition in this regard for a discussion in an appropriate manner, if you desire.”
The government “does not support or condone” such incidents and is aware of the Opposition’s concerns on “unfortunate incidents like Dadri and killing of M M Kalburgi,” he said. However, on the GST Bill, both sides talked about the need for discussions to thrash out issues on some of the contentious clauses.
Setting the tone, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the Opposition for cooperation as he made a strong pitch for early passage of the GST Bill at the all party-meet convened by Naidu, saying it will be in the interest of the nation. He told the Opposition leaders that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will hold discussions with them on their concerns.
Congress, on the other side, said it was open for discussions on GST Bill on which it has “very genuine concerns.” “Let us see how far they go ahead,” leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
In back-to-back meetings with Opposition leaders who wanted Parliament to pass a resolution condemning incidents of intolerance, the government emphasised that it is wise enough to appreciate that “development is possible only in an atmosphere of peace and harmony.”
In the evening, the Prime Minister met leaders of NDA allies to formulate the strategy. After the meeting, Raju Shetty of Swabhimani Shetkaari Sangathana said the Prime Minister was confident of passage of the GST Bill.
JD(U) president Sharad Yadav announced support to the GST after the all-party meet convened by Naidu. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the Centre should hold talks with states on the issue of GST as they will lose all legislative power on tax matters once it comes into force. He regretted that such talks have not been held despite repeated pleas for the same by the Left parties.
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan also held an all-party meeting to ensure smooth functioning of the Parliament.
Yechury said he has given a notice in Rajya Sabha seeking passage of a one-line resolution by the House condemning the incidents of “intolerance” and asking the government to ensure that such incidents do not happen again.
Azad put the ball in the government’s court saying “ultimately, it is for the government whether they are interested in running the House or not.”
Holding that a number of things have been going on in the country since the government and the Opposition met last in the Monsoon Session, Azad insisted that those points have also to be accommodated and that there has to be discussion on intolerance, price rise, farmers’ plight, on flood situation and a number of other things. “We have made our views very clear to the government that we are in favour of transacting the business provided our genuine demands and concerns which are concerning the people of the country are taken on board,” the Congress leader said.
Assuring Opposition members on this count, Naidu said, “Government is ready to discuss all issues including that of the so-called intolerance though it falls in the domain of states. We do not support or condone such incidents. We have nothing to hide. We are ready for a debate on intolerance. Government has nothing to feel shy about it. Even about the so-called intolerance, we are prepared to have a debate.”
On the crucial GST issue, Naidu said that the government has decided to have dialogue with Congress. “It will address concerns of Opposition on GST and other bills,” he said after the NDA meet.
Modi, who attended the all-party meeting briefly, said Parliament should run meaningfully and constructively to fulfil the people’s expectations.