NEW DELHI: Not only is the BJP set to take Gujarat again+ , it appears it has retained most of the seats in Surat where it faced significant resentment over the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax Act (GST).
The unified tax was a significant poll issue, especially in Surat, the hub of the ‘baniya’, or trader, community. Comprising Patels as well, this community held almost 14 percent of the vote in the state. And they were not happy with the incumbent BJP for the hit the tax caused to their businesses.
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The Congress tried hard, very hard, to capitalise on their resentment. Its president Rahul Gandhi coined the now-famous phrase ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’+ to describe the GST and ascribe to it the villainous qualities of Hindi films’ iconic character.
Still, the Congress didn’t succeed. But for a while there, it appeared to be touch and go for the BJP.
Soon after the GST rollout on July 1, many traders’ organisations held protest rallies; one by textile traders in Surat was especially significant. These traders, weavers and those connected with the embroidery sector form the country’s largest man-made fabric hub in Surat.
A panicked BJP realised it had to stem the flow of those moving away from it in their affiliation. The Centre reduced GST on yarn to 12% from 18%, increased basic customs duty by 25% to curb the import of undervalued fabrics from China, and gave relief in filing of GST returns.
The Centre cut tax rates on artificial filament yarn such as viscose and rayon, as well as yarn of manmade staple fibres. These were brought under the 5 per cent slab from the previous 12 per cent.
A similar change was made for the tax rate on food items like khakhra (a popular Gujarati snack), as well as for some categories of namkeens. Many relief measures were brought for exporters. And a day before the Election Commission revealed the dates for the Gujarat polls, the Vijay Rupani government waived GST on micro irrigation equipment as well.
Still, many industry leaders believe damage to the textile sector was done when the GST came into effect on July 1 and that these late announcements of tax cuts were of no help to the textile sector now.
“Till now, we have out and out supported the BJP. In 2014 elections, we played a major role in popularizing Narendra Modi in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha. We want assurance from Congress now that it will bail out traders and textile sector from the GST law,” said a textile trader Hitesh Sanklecha, to TOI last month.
“We will go with Congress this time, GST has made our lives difficult,” said Amrish Bhai, owner of a diamond-polishing unit that employs 50 artisans.
Today, it appears these disgruntled traders were in a minority and that Bhupendra Yadav, the BJP’s national general secretary and Gujarat in-charge was correct.
“We have been looking at the traders’ complaints on GST quite sympathetically. Every month, the GST Council has been announcing some relaxation or the other. In Surat, we will win all the seats,” Yadav said to The Economic Times mid-November.
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