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It's Very Difficult for GST to Pass in this Winter Session.
If Something Goes Wrong, expect Free-Fall in Indian Stock Market

The prospects of the goods and services tax (GST) Bill being passed by the Upper House seemed to be uncertain once again. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi have voiced unhappiness over their being subjected to a ?political vendetta?.

Following a Delhi High Court order, the two have been asked to appear personally at a trial court hearing of a case against them for illegal transfer of assets in the National Herald. A hearing for the case, filed by BJP national executive member Subramanian Swamy, has been posted for December 19.

Sensing a chance to embarrass the government, the BJP?s ally, Shiv Sena, too, has put forth new conditions in return for support on the GST. This despite the fact that it only has three MPs in the Rajya Sabha and had already supported the Bill in the Lok Sabha.Internally, the Congress has decided it would continue to stall Parliament and is making efforts to prove that it is not just a ?Congress-free India? (?Congress-mukt Bharat?) that the government wants, but an Opposition-free India (Vipaksha-mukt Bharat).

While several ministers, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, said the government had nothing to do with the case or the high court order, the Congress, which outnumbers the BJP in the Upper House, on Tuesday did not let either House function and stormed the well of the Rajya Sabha.

Sonia Gandhi gave the signal to party storm-troopers when she said: ?I am Indira Gandhi?s daughter-in-law. I am afraid of nothing? and asked reporters to draw their own conclusion when they asked her if she was a victim of political vendetta. Rahul Gandhi, who was in Chennai to survey flooded areas, was blunt and said: ?I see a political vendetta. The Centre thinks they can stop me from asking questions about them by ?vendetta? politics. That is not going to happen.

Meanwhile, Swamy made it clear he wasn?t acting on behalf of the BJP or the Prime Minister. ?Congress lawyers are misleading them. I don?t need support from the BJP to take on Rahul and Sonia."  Jaitley tried to introduce an element of balance and said, ?Why stall Parliament over a court decision? Nobody enjoys immunity from court proceedings. It is a case based on a private complaint." BJP minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also said it was a court decision, ?not the Delhi police?s or the CBI?s?.

The situation suggests that while the government will spare no effort to push GST through in Rajya Sabha, the Congress is determined to ?make the treasury benches sweat before the Bill is passed?, an opposition MP said.  There is as yet no certainty that the Bill would be passed in the Winter Session. A new deadline of December 19 has been introduced in the GST timeline. If the Gandhi family has to appear in court on that day, it would be hard for the Congress to be seen as collaborating with the government in the passage of the Bill.Government sources, however, are not unhappy. 

The BJP is planning to project the disruption as the Gandhi family?s interests being put above the interests of the nation. In fact, in his capacity as the leader of the House, Jaitley said the House was ready to hear all grievances of the Congress party, but they needed to spell them out.

A discussion in Parliament is hard to visualise while the matter is sub-judice. ?If they want to try their luck in the Supreme Court, they have very little chance, because the two courts have held that there is a prima facie case. So, the Supreme Court would not like to intervene,? Swamy told ANI. Swamy said he was ?working on the possibility that there has been money laundering, because the people who made the decisions are the same in all the three situations?. The Shiv Sena, meanwhile, said the government would get its support only if it spelt out in the GST architecture. Sena fears that civic bodies may be starved of necessary funds that will make them difficult to implement development projects.

Sena MP Anil Desai said: ?The Shiv Sena is of the view that after the GST regime, the funds earmarked for the civic bodies should be made available to them directly and not through the state kitty. The party wants that a legal formula should find place in the GST amendment Bill and, till then, it will oppose GST in the present format.?

Desai gave the example of the Sena-BJP controlled BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with an annual budget of Rs 33,000 crore. "BMC annually gets nearly Rs 8,000 crore alone through octroi, which is spent on a number of development works. The government will have to ensure that there is no major revenue loss and therefore the party demands that the funds should be directly released to all municipal corporations, nagar panchayat and municipal councils or else they won't be in a position to do capex," he noted.

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