Undergoing an unprecedented identity crisis, internal bleeding and staring at a long political winter, Congress party has just one desperate gambit left to resist total irrelevance — make its numbers count in the Upper House of the Parliament, create a ruckus and prevent the NDA government from passing crucial bills like the GST in the upcoming Monsoon Session.
The negative strategy won't bring it back to power, of course, but may at least keep the grand old party in headlines and ensure temporary reprieve from descending into obscurity. What took place on Tuesday, though, creates a strong possibility that beleaguered Congress may be denied even that opportunity if Modi government plays its cards right.
During a meeting with different chambers of commerce in Kolkata, the West Bengal Chief Minister on Tuesday directed state finance minister Amit Mitra — who is also the chairman of the Empowered Committee on GST — to ensure that the single-window tax bill is passed in the Monsoon Session of the Parliament. Her stance also signifies that the maverick politician is graduating into a mature administrator.
"We are fighting for the bill as it will help industry with single-point tax instead of multiple layers of taxation. Our finance minister Amit Mitra is leading the committee on GST and I think in the next one or two meetings it will be resolved… I have ideological differences with BJP and I politically oppose them. But that does not mean I will create a hindrance for passing a pro-people bill like of GST," Mamata Banerjee said while addressing industry captains in the state.
While Mamata's backing comes as no surprise with her having made it clear on earlier occasions that she is ready to lend issue-based support to the NDA government on bills that she deems as important, her voluntary espousal will still come as a shot in the arm for Narendra Modi.
It also indicates how within the span of a few months, the political equation at the Centre has undergone a dramatic change. During the Winter Session last year TMC MPs had demonstrated with black umbrellas, earthen pots and even red diaries to air their grievance against the government both inside and outside the Parliament. Mamata Banerjee's party had also been hand in glove with the Congress in stalling proceedings at the Upper House.
However, Congress's move to join hands with Didi's arch-rivals the Left Front for the 2016 Assembly polls seems to have triggered two interesting modifications. One, it has freed Mamata Banerjee of the residual gratefulness that she long nurtured for the Gandhi family and two, it has made the Bengal Chief Minister into a more confident player, ready to leave her footprint on the national scene.
The BJP will never be able to turn her into an ally, but it can get a working relationship going with the Bengal chieftain for a mutually beneficial partnership.
But Mamata Banerjee is only half the story.
Since the GST is a Constitutional Amendment Bill and requires a two-third majority to be passed, the NDA must ensure 165 votes in a House of 245. A total of 53 members are set to retire before the Monsoon Session. The Congress, which may lose around five seats from its current strength of 64, is still way ahead of BJP which may add as many as four to its tally of 49. It basically means that NDA is still in the minority.
This is where Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa may make a huge difference with her 12 MPs. If the NDA can woo Amma into its camp, the GST battle will be nearly sealed notwithstanding Congress's cynicism which will surely try to lodge relentless protest to rob the House of order and restrict the Bill's passage.
Anticipating such a circumstance, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had last month issued an appeal to the Congress to help build a consensus but left the door ajar for voting.
"When we meet in the monsoon session, it is time we reconsidered our positions. We want all parties to be on board. But if not, please allow the parliamentary process of decision-making by debate and voting to take place", Jaitley had said.
It is in this context that we must place BJP's recent effort in trying to get Jayalalithaa on board despite her known reservations about the GST.
Economic Times has reported that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister is expected to be in Delhi later this month and there could be an effort on the government's part to strike an arrangement with the AIADMK so that it stays away from joining forces with Congress and Left.
Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. With some careful maneuvering, the BJP may succeed in passing the GST Bill. Where does that leave the Congress? Its nuisance value in Rajya Sabha will be greatly reduced. As for the rest, wager on even the Gandhis not having a clue. You won't lose the bet.