Rahul Gandhi holds key to passage of GST Bill

The return of Congress president Sonia Gandhi from her trip abroad on Sunday has made the government optimistic enough to list the Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2014 in this week's business in the Rajya Sabha, but the NDA's floor managers reportedly lament that the government still does not have a ''handle'' on how to deal with the man whose word will weigh the most in breaking the impasse - Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Reports say that while older networks between senior leaders of both parties are active, the current leadership in the BJP has no channel of communication with the junior Gandhi.

The tea invitation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi a few days ago was an icebreaker that had been much awaited. It signalled that both sides wanted to move away from their year-long attitudes since the results of the general elections of 2014. It was also, in the words of one senior government minister, an ''attempt to combine Manmohan Singh's wisdom with regard to GST, and authority over the Congress that vested with Sonia Gandhi.''

Except that some of that authority seems vested with Rahul Gandhi and nobody in the government has been talking to him. ''Parliamentary strategy seems to be run by Mr Gandhi and his advisors, his very harsh speech in the Lok Sabha on the tolerance debate and targeting General V K Singh in the Rajya Sabha are pointers that he wants this parliamentary disarray to continue,'' said a source.

The government's only hope, according to strategists, is that senior leaders in the party may persuade Rahul that obstructionism on the GST could isolate the Congress in the Opposition ranks. ''Most smaller parties are on board on the GST,'' said the source.

Sources in the Congress said that in internal meetings as of now, Gandhi is more interested in cornering the government than helping it pass India's biggest tax reform measure in the recent years. Its parliamentary party leader Mallikarjuna Kharge was snubbed twice when he tried to raise the issue with Rahul in internal meetings last week. ''Let's see,'' was all Gandhi said on the GST in response to Kharge, according to sources.

With the Congress set to meet on Tuesday to firm up its position on the GST Bill post the tea session, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the government to work up those telephone lines.