Thursday, August 24, 2017
AHMEDABAD: Gujarat shut down on Thursday in united protest against the Goods and Services Tax but there was barely a word of it on television channels. Thousands poured out on the roads in Surat and other cities on Friday but this was virtually blacked out until citizens themselves put videos--yet to be verified-- up on the social media, with some of it reflected in the local media.
Even as the Modi government is congratulating itself for bringing in the GST as a major achievement, the Prime Minister’s home state is up in arms with traders, textile workers and others coming together in mass protests demanding exemption from GST that comes into effect on July 1. That their voices have not been heard in Delhi is clear from the statement of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley saying that the government did not have the luxury of time to defer the GST roll out date from July 1.
Major markets in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Junagadh, Surat and other major cities downed their shutters and followed this with a massive rally. The controlled media, however, chose to ignore the peoples protests and blacked out the anger registered on the streets of Gujarat. Traders who had not been as vocal as other sections on GST also gave up their reticence, and participated in the shut down as well as the protest rally.
President of Gujarat Traders Federation Jayendra Tanna told reporters, “There were sporadic protests earlier but there was a strong undercurrent of dissent. This anger has suddenly erupted.” The Federation had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April asking him to ease the rules of GST but clearly were unable to prevail.
Hiren Gandhi, chairman of Food Committee of Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), explained the huge turn out with, “the government is interested in increasing the revenue and does not care about its impact on trae. It is this indifferent attitude that has made the traders so angry.”
What started as a protest by the textile industry that is perceived as the worst hit under GST was joined by the Kirana Associations, the Dry Fruit organisations, the Electronics associations, the Diamond merchant bodies to name just a few. BJP backed organisations also felt the pressure from the rest, and had to close shop across the state. A local newspaper quoted the Rajkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry Samir Shah as saying, “The APMC is governed by BJP. But it had to remain close because of pressure from the small traders.”
Most in PM Modi’s home state remember that he had opposed the then Congress mooted GST when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The fact that he has completely ignored petitions, and sporadic protests in recent weeks before the GST was introduced has further upset the organisations in the state who are now looking at the possibility of an indefinite strike. Local merchant bodies are surprised at the success and unity of the one day strike, with the anger cutting across organisations in the state.
The rally in Surat was in response to a call by the Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association (FOSTTA) but became a rallying point for all organisations. There has been, predictably, no response from the government despite the visible angst.