Manmohan Singh steps in, gets Congress to step back on GST
As Rajya Sabha passed four GST bills in an atmosphere of camaraderie, one man who had not spoken once during the two-day debate became the protagonist. Immediately after the bills were passed, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley walked up to former prime minister Manmohan Singh and shook his hand.
The Congress did not move amendments to the bills. Citing advice by Manmohan, Jairam Ramesh withdrew his amendment that required decisions of the GST Council to be brought before Parliament. Two amendments put to vote — one by Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien and the other by Left MPs Tapan Sen and T K Rangarajan — were defeated.
Ramesh said, “I had moved the amendment because I felt that Parliament… was being bypassed… However yesterday the former PM advised me not to move the amendment as it would disrupt the GST structure. Hence I am not moving.”
It was the same argument Jaitley had used minutes earlier to persuade another member not to move or press for division on the same amendment.
The Central GST Bill, the Integrated GST Bill, the GST (Compensation to States) Bill and the Union Territory GST Bill were passed amid lighthearted banter, with nearly everyone standing up to support GST.
Ramesh’s reference to Manmohan drew initial jibes from both the Treasury and Opposition benches. O’Brien, whose amendment was essentially the same as the one Ramesh withdrew, said: “I wish Mr Ramesh and his colleagues had consulted the former PM earlier because in Lok Sabha Congress moved the same amendment.” Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu asked if Ramesh had also consulted Manmohan’s “boss”.
Ramesh said he made the point only to emphasise “the difference between the former PM who is a statesman and the present PM who is a politician”. Ramesh mentioned a jibe by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had said, in a reference to alleged corruption in the UPA regime, that Manmohan knows how to bathe in a raincoat.
When the bills were finally returned to Lok Sabha — they are money bills — leaders across parties walked up to congratulate Jaitley while he walked up to the Opposition benches. Congress MPs called back Manmohan, who had begun to depart; he and Jaitley shook hands while Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and others looked on.
Earlier, when the chair called out the name of former finance minister P Chidambaram, he declined to speak and was heard saying: “Who put my name there?” Even as his party colleagues called out to him to speak, he remained seated.
Then the Trinamool and the Left, arch rivals in Bengal, abstained from voting on each other’s amendments. The Trinamool’s just got 11 ayes and the Left’s 9. The highest number of amendment notices were given by Subirami Reddy, who was absent.
In his speech, Jaitley assured members that neither the concerns about the being predominantly in the hands of private sector banks nor those about federalism were valid. “GST Council is India’s first federal institution, in fact we consciously avoided voting to reach decisions through a process of deliberative democracy. The plenary powers are with the Parliament and the state legislatures,” he said. The credit, he said, goes to successive governments, MPs and all political parties.