Govt reaches out to Oppn, indicates PM could intervene in demonetisation discussion

Congress Vice president Rahul Gandhi with Opposition MPs during a protest outside Parliament against the government’s move to demonetise high tender notes

A countrywide protest call on Monday, 28 November, against demonetisation, will test opposition unity but may also cast a shadow on the Narendra Modi government's plan of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) rollout by April 1, 2017. The government, however, is hopeful that winter session proceedings of Parliament should be back on track in the coming days.

Aware that the continued parliamentary logjam could scupper the chances of the passage of the three GST related Bills, government strategists on Wednesday claimed that they were reaching out to prominent opposition leaders to find a resolution. The government believes that the opposition, at least some of the parties, were now tired of their protests and needed a face saver.

The postponement of the meeting of the GST Council from Friday to December 2 or 3, where it would finalise the three Bills, has given both the government and the opposition time to conclude the discussion on demonetisation before Parliament takes up other issues.

Government strategists also said they would like GST Bills to be discussed and passed in both Houses, and not as 'money Bills' only in the Lok Sabha. "The spirit of GST discussions has been that of consensus, and we would like to continue with this precedent, particularly as negotiations on tax rates and other issues will be a routine affair in the GST Council," a top government source said.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar are holding back-channel talks with opposition leaders to work out a truce. In the Rajya Sabha, the opposition parties on Wednesday continued to persist with their demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi be present in the House for the remainder of the discussion on the impact of demonetisation on public.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said the opposition demand "cannot be a precondition" for the House to resume the discussion. But a government strategist indicated that the Prime Minister might intervene if the opposition allows the Rajya Sabha to resume the discussion on demonetisation on Thursday. They said the Prime Minister will attend the Rajya Sabha proceedings on Thursday, which is his day to be present in the House and take up questions on the departments under the Prime Minister's Office.

The government believes the Opposition cannot sustain its protests as the "poor of India" were with the Prime Minister in his fight against black money. They believe the protests were an "afterthought" since the Opposition found that the people on the street supported the Prime Minister's decision. They also pointed to the results of the 10 assemblies and four Lok Sabha seat by-polls as evidence that the people were with the government on demonetization. However, several BJP MPs from Uttar Pradesh have given the feedback to the government that it should do more to provide relief to farmers in the state.

On Wednesday, Opposition MPs gathered at the Gandhi statue outside Parliament and marched together after linking their arms to form a human chain to protest the government's demonetisation decision. Neither of the two Houses could transact any business. The Prime Minister attended the proceedings of the Lok Sabha during the Question Hour in the morning, but continuing opposition protests meant the House had to be adjourned.

In the Lok Sabha, much of the opposition persisted that a discussion be held under a rule involving voting. Biju Janata Dal's Bhartruhari Mahtab and Telangana Rashtra Samiti's Jithender Reddy, two parties that didn't join Congress-led protests, favoured a quick resolution to the standoff for the House to initiate discussion.

Although the opposition is still riven by political differences and rivalries (the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist, for instance, are rivals in West Bengal while the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are in fierce competition in Uttar Pradesh), they have come together in tactical unity against the ruling National Democratic Alliance and will put up a joint front against the government's demonetisation decision in a bandh on 28 November.

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