Just over a month after the conclusion of the monsoon session of the Parliament, the Centre has convened a special session for five days from September 18 to 22, fuelling speculations among political circles and the public regarding the agenda of the meeting ahead of five assembly elections scheduled later this year.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to tweet, “Amid Amrit Kaal looking forward to having fruitful discussions and debate in Parliament.”
The announcement of a special session has, predictably, evoked surprise and engendered speculations around what might be in the store for the public as the government has its sight fixed on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in May 2024.
Special convened by the Modi government in 2017 for the passage of Goods and Services Tax launch
However, this is not the first time that the Modi government has called for a special parliamentary session in its 9 years of duration so far. In 2017, during the first tenure of the Modi government, the Centre had called for a joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for the passage of the momentous Goods and Services Tax Bill, the biggest indirect tax reform since India’s independence, and one which supplanted all central and state taxes with a single tax.
Notably, it was for the first time that legislation was passed during the special session of the parliament–the earlier ones were held to pay tribute to historically significant occasions.
The special session was held on 30 June 2017 in the Central Hall of Parliament to commemorate the launch of the GST, a monumental effort that had been in development for nearly a decade. The session saw speeches made by Prime Minister Modi, and outgoing President Pranab Mukherjee, who addressed an august assembly of over 600 attendees, including Members of Parliament, Chief Ministers, GST Council members, and several government officials. As a part of the event, two short films about the GST were also screened.
Given the epoch-making occasion, the Modi government had extended the invite to former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda, along with several members of the Opposition and the Congress, who declined to be a part of the historical special session. Among those present in the Parliament were Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.
The invite was also extended to the top officials of the Reserve Bank of India, including former RBI governor Urjit Patel and his predecessors, Raghuram Rajan, who had a contentious relationship with the government, was among them.
Even eminent citizens from non-political backgrounds such as singer Lata Mangeshkar, actor Amitabh Bachchan and industrialist Ratan Tata, graced the occasion.
Congress, TMC among opposition parties who had boycotted GST launch special session
The opposition political parties in attendance were the Janata Dal (United), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Samajwadi Party and Janata Dal (Secular). Besides Congress, the Trinamool Congress, Left, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), DMK and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) decided not to be a part of the event.
Opposition parties that boycotted the session characterized it as a “publicity stunt.” The Congress accused the government of “insulting the very memory of India’s freedom struggle and the sacrifices associated with it” by holding the event in the Central Hall. Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was with Congress at the time, commented, “Perhaps for the BJP, 1947, 1972, and 1997 may be of no relevance because they played no role in securing India’s freedom.”
Mallikarjun Kharge, then the Congress’s leader in the Lok Sabha, highlighted that the UPA government had passed several significant acts such as the RTI Act, Food Security Act, MGNREGA, and Right to Education Act but never organised such celebrations in the Central Hall.
But GST implementation has proven to be a game changer for the much-needed reforms in India’s business sector, with the ever-increasing collections month-on-month underscoring the successful assimilation of the reform passed by the Modi government. Despite braving an unprecedented pandemic when the economy and much of the world had come to a standstill, the GST’s trajectory has risen exponentially. In April 2023, the GST collections surged to an all-time high of over ₹1.87-lakh crore.
However, while the Centre had called the 2017 session to usher the country into the era of a single tax regime, the special session of 5 days in 2023 seems to have socio-political underpinnings and not commercial implications. Will the government initiate social justice that has eluded a large section of the population with the implementation of UCC or some form of it? Or is it about the electoral reforms of ‘one nation, one election’? Whatever it might be, one thing is for sure with the present government: It has demonstrated that it has the spine to grasp the nettle and make tough decisions consequential for the country rather than worry about their political implications.