The rift between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its biggest ally, the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), could spell trouble for the crucial goods and services tax (GST) that is being reviewed by a panel of state finance ministers led by BJP leader and deputy chief minister of Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi.
On Tuesday, tension between the long-standing members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) grew wider with both parties renewing their war of words. JD(U) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar retaliated against BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi’s statement that Kumar was no one to give a certificate on secularism to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Lekhi added that Kumar was railway minister in the NDA government when the Godhra incident that sparked the religious riots in Gujarat took place in 2002.
“The job of a railway minister is to look after railway safety; but the responsibility to look into the problem of public order, law and order belongs to the states,” Kumar said. His reaction was prompted after arch rival Lalu Prasad, head of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), questioned the genuineness of Kumar’s stand against Modi.
Prasad asked why Kumar didn’t resign as railway minister after the riots.
JD(U) spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari hardened his party’s stance and asked the BJP to respect its allies instead of humiliating them.
“BJP is free to take its decision (if it wants to break from the coalition),” he said. “Nobody will be happy if the alliance breaks down after 17 years of journey together.” No one party can form a government without the support of regional alliances, he said.
BJP leaders said the party’s rank and file are angry with Kumar’s repeated attacks against Modi, especially in Bihar. The matter will be raised when the core panel of the Bihar state unit meets party president Rajnath Singh on Thursday. Singh has been appraised of the views of the party’s leaders in Bihar and “back channels between two parties are working to harmonize the relations”, according to party leaders.
Sushil Modi, chairman of the empowered committee of state finance ministers that’s reviewing the GST in India, echoed sentiments of his party colleagues.
“The veiled attack against Narendra Modi during JD(U) national council is unfortunate. This should not have happened. The BJP workers and supporters across the state are hurt,” Modi said in a statement.
If the BJP withdraws its ministers from the Kumar cabinet, the committee will have to search for a new chairman.
In a little less than two years since he took over as chairman of the committee in July 2011, Modi can take credit for successfully negotiating with the central government to address key concerns of states with regard to the design of the GST and the prickly issue of central sales tax compensation.
Getting a new chairman may make it difficult for finance minister P. Chidambaram to finalize the changes to the constitutional amendment Bill before the monsoon session of Parliament. The amendment is a necessary part of putting GST in place.
The panel of state finance ministers is scheduled to meet on 10-11 May in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, to approve the final changes to the design of the tax regime.
GST seeks to create a common market for goods and services in India. It has missed its initial roll-out date of April 2010 as the central government struggled to form a consensus with the states.
“Sushil Modi’s exit will be a setback to GST in the short term. But I think we cannot afford to delay GST any longer. One will have to move forward and look for a new chairman who can take the process forward,” said Prashant Deshpande, leader, indirect tax, at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. Ltd, in India.