New Delhi: Congress seniors today described the government's recent outreach as too little too late as they played down the likelihood of any parliamentary business this winter session, let alone the passage of the goods and services tax bill.
They said the government's recent overtures, which included hosting Congress leaders to a tea and a lunch, came under compulsion and were narrowly limited to the GST bill while the Centre's overall approach continued to be "hostile and insensitive".
"The government has accepted only one of the three suggestions given by us (on the GST bill)," a senior party strategist told The Telegraph.
"Then, there are so many issues affecting normal functioning of Parliament. It looks extremely difficult to pass the GST bill this session."
The Congress's reluctance showed at Monday's lunch meeting, hosted by ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley, where Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Jyotiraditya Scindia used the plea of Mallikarjun Kharge's absence to avoid a formal discussion.
On November 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had treated Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to tea and snacks at his residence.
Sharma today said: "The engagement between the government and the Opposition can't be limited to one issue, just passage of one bill."
He added: "This was the second time we sat together - the first being the Prime Minister's invitation to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh - after wasting 18 months."
A Congress senior who didn't want to be quoted too said that politics "doesn't rest on a single bill".
"The government approached us with the specific target of getting the GST bill through while it continued to be confrontational, arrogant and insensitive," the senior politician said.
"The Prime Minister insults our chief minister (Oommen Chandy of Kerala, left out of an event Modi is to attend tomorrow in the southern state). The finance minister (Jaitley) continuously humiliates our leadership by writing blogs. The meaning of his remark that even the Queen isn't above the law isn't lost on us."
The Congress sees the last comment as an allusion to the National Herald case against Sonia and others, who are accused of plotting a fraudulent acquisition of the assets of the now-closed newspaper's former publisher.
Jaitley today voiced his anguish at the legislative logjam in a Facebook blog titled "Pandit Nehru and Parliament".
He invoked a speech by Jawaharlal Nehru on March 28, 1957, the last day of the first Lok Sabha, recommending it as a "must read".
He quoted Nehru as saying: "Surely, there can be no higher responsibility or greater privilege than to be a member of this sovereign body which is responsible for the fate of the vast number of human beings who live in this country.... Whether we were worthy of it or not is another matter. We have functioned, therefore, during these years not only on the edge of history but sometimes plunging into the processes of making history."
Jaitley threw the Congress a dare: "Those who claim the legacy of Panditji must ask themselves the question, what kind of history they are making."
Conceding that like the monsoon sitting, the current session was "also threatened with a washout", Jaitley said: "The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we being fair to ourselves and this country?"
Sharma countered Jaitley's charge that the issues for disruption were changing by the hour.
"Issues are adding up because they (the government) are creating new issues. The trouble is because of the Prime Minister's refusal or inability to act against obnoxious motor-mouths in the party. What should the Opposition do when barbaric assaults take place on Dalits - applaud?"
He reeled out several issues: "Why are RSS governors interfering with chief ministers' work, calling chief secretaries without mandate? We also know of the plot to destabilise our state governments.
"Did we ask the Prime Minister to insult the Kerala chief minister, which led to trouble in the Lok Sabha? The Rajya Sabha was disturbed because ruling Akali Dal leaders cut off the hands and legs of a Dalit man... girl is raped - should we seek the government's permission to raise these issues?"
Anticipating wider criticism for blocking the GST bill, the Congress has begun arguing that economic growth doesn't rest on the passage of one act.
"Parliament was paralysed during UPA rule but the economy grew at 9 per cent," Sharma said. "This government has mismanaged the economy and, if we calculate by the old method, the growth has been merely 5.4 per cent."
He added: "We have shown that the economy can grow fast even when the then Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, blocked the GST for five years. Now exports have fallen sharply for 12 consecutive months despite global expansion of trade.
"The government is fudging FDI numbers to show improvement. There is no job creation. The rupee is sliding."