Textile strike in Surat: How GST is now a political fight within the BJP

The lathi charge has become a flashpoint that could lead to loss of support from this community, ahead of the assembly elections later this year. Controlled mostly by North Indians, the textile traders are staunch BJP supporters.

Written by Kamaal Saiyed | Surat | Published:July 5, 2017 12:39 pm
GST, GST textile, gujarat textile industry, goods and service tax, GST BJP, gujarat BJP, Surat textile industry, indian express news, india news Textile traders strip down and sit on protest at Sagar Market in Surat. Express file photo

When textile goods were brought under the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the textile manufacturing and trading business, of which Surat is a hub, had barely recovered from demonetisation. The current outrage over GST which spilt onto the streets of Surat this week, leading to a police lathicharge on Monday, however, seems to have political overtones. The lathi charge has become a flashpoint that could lead to loss of support from this community, ahead of the assembly elections later this year.

Controlled mostly by North Indians, the textile traders are staunch BJP supporters. In 2014, the BJP had sent cartons of sarees with the slogan, `Ab ki baar Modi sarkar’ printed by the Surat textile merchants, to different cities, ahead of the general election, and in the following year, over a lakh sarees packed in bags printed with the slogan ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikaas’ were sent to Bihar ahead of its assembly election.

At the helm of the saree campaigns, supported by textile traders of Surat, was Navsari BJP MP CR Patil, who is a Maharashtrian settled in Surat. He wielded influence not only with textile traders but with the north Indian community in Surat. Not anymore.

There are over 70,000 textile trading shops in 165 textile markets in Surat, with a daily turnover of Rs 135 crore. The sarees and dress materials manufactured and processed in Surat are packaged and sent to the majority of the states and cities across the country. With the ongoing strike, the traders face losses of thousands of crores in business. Till now, textile traders were paying only income tax; now; they say, GST will add to their tax burden. Post demonetisation last November, the textile business did not shut down but it did suffer losses for three months due to the cash crunch.

The present agitation is under the banner of Surat GST Sangharsh Samiti formed by the textile traders which includes members of the parent textile trading body, the Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association (FOSTTA).

Surat GST Sangharsh Samiti president Tarachand Kasat and few of its members are from the BJP. Kasat is Surat city BJP executive committee member. Before the agitation, the textile traders had formed two more organizations – Vepari Pragati Sangh and South Gujarat textile traders Association. The Vepari Pragati Sangh was formed by ex president of FOSTTA, Sanjay Jagnani, who is also an active BJP member. South Gujarat Textile Traders Association was formed by Sawarmal Bhudiya, a veteran textile trader, known to be close to Patil. Kasat who used to be on Patil’s side is now a rival.

It was Kasat who had announced on Saturday, when the markets opened after six days of closure following the panic ahead of the GST, that textile trading will remain closed for indefinite period.

Patil, meanwhile, called meeting of the textile traders of South Gujarat Textile Traders Association and Vepari Pragati Sangh, on Sunday (a day after GST came into effect) and claimed that over 1,000 textile traders had given him an assurance that they would open for business and that police would provide security. However, the traders organised under Kasat’s GST Sangharsh Samiti, which comprises mostly of traders originally from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan, did not heed Patil’s appeal.

This indicates that the North Indian community in Surat is now split and that Patil’s hold over it has weakened. As recently as May, BJP leaders from UP and Bihar had got into a confrontation with Patil when they had gone to submit a memorandum to BJP’s Gujarat in charge Bhupendra Yadav, demanding more trains from Surat to UP and Bihar. Patil who was present there, called them “representatives of Congress party” and snubbed their demand. Later, Patil, knowing he could not annoy the North Indian migrants, organised an “Uttar Bhartiya Sammelan” in Surat as a show of strength. However, no local BJP organizational members attended the public meeting called by Patil.

As far as the textile agitation is concerned, it is a showdown between Patil and Kasat, where the latter seems to be on firmer ground. Patil claims Congressmen were also present in the textile market protest; he accuses Kasat of not holding any textile business in the area, and yet provoking the agitation. Kasat blames Patil for the police lathi charge and says he should not have intervened and allowed the agitation to go on and end in three days, as was scheduled.

The Congress, is trying to milk the situation, politically. Gujarat Pradesh Congress committee chief Bharatsinh Solanki took a couple of textile traders from Surat to meet former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, one of the brains behind the GST, to sort the issue out. The strike is likely to continue till the GST slabs are not clarified.

In a way, it is deja vu for Surat, where the Patidar quota agitation led to a similar unrest in the BJP.

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    Prasanta Mishra
    Jul 5, 2017 at 4:03 pm
    GST was thought for benefit of indian and it is turned into benefit of bilinior corporates who funds blazing posters ,transport vehicles and muton and alchol for ruling party programs,see in odisha the posters are of bilion and trlion of rupees by non currupt nationalist party,think voters,think else it would be too late to recover.
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      Kamal
      Jul 6, 2017 at 2:09 pm
      Sir,do u know ,that this industry consist of job workers who fit stones and do hand work as value addition on it,,this class is basically consist of house wives and maximum of illiterate men's who even not know to sign in their cheques,and now v are expecting from these that they will follow the procedure of GST and will do all the accounting ...is it possible...it's only they say that,,,Saab woh sab aap dekh Lena..so what should a manufacturer do,,,either he stops giving them job or else close his shop...We are even now not saying to remove GST,,but our protest is to making rules easy so that every one can adjust according to it
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      vijay
      Jul 5, 2017 at 3:37 pm
      . The good traders of Surat knew the impending arrival of GST the rate at which they have to collect and pay G.S.T The only reason they are panicking about is that the cat will be out of the bag under a close scrutiny by a half wit of a tax inspector because of the simplicity of the concept.There are only three parts in G.S.T 1. cost of goods to suppliers and G.S.T paid 2. Money taken from the customers and G.S.T collected 3. The difference between G.S.T collected and G.S.T paid . If the collected G.S.T more than the Paid G.S.T so difference goes to the government ,if the G.S.T paid is more than the G.S.T collected then the difference is carried forward to the next . G.S.T period. G.S.T is applicable to every expenses related to the business but nothing else. Tax avoidance could be unearthed and fines or jail may be looming. This could have cased the panic and the jittery behavior. If an accountancy illiterate like me can get my head around G.S.T why can't my clever Guji friends.
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        S.Suresh
        Jul 5, 2017 at 3:14 pm
        Actually Goods and Service Tax had been Good Taxes if they would have been done helpful to poor and middle class people but it is more favour to Corporate people than common man. Especially GST is very high on common man using items like saving creams, cellphone recharges, cooking gas, groundnut cakes or balls ...... but gst is less for Pizza, cashenuts, high b ed cars.....
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          vijay
          Jul 5, 2017 at 3:08 pm
          Ignorance can be eradicated by supplying information but pretending ignorance has no way of getting over.Especially if it is based on some ulterior motives fomented by opportunistic political interests. There is no question the GST will be a fillip to the producers,the consumers and to our economy. At the same time it will be very difficult to under invoice or play with invoicing in any shape or form. The simplicity of the tax formula it self is it's strength and anti dote to creative accounting and scams and ding, With out exploring their concerns with the government they are stifling the industry on the basis of some imaginary difficulties. It sounds like Didi's ravings on demonetisation the day after Mr.Modi announced it.could it be the fear of finding out and the problems of fixing and hiding the ongoing scams.
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            Parth Garg
            Jul 5, 2017 at 2:48 pm
            The Surat Textile traders are late risers. They are thumping the chest after a fait accompli. Hope now the Bhakts would open their eyes and see what the Messiah has done to them.
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              shailendra
              Jul 5, 2017 at 2:39 pm
              it shows they want business with illegal way , they must do the business in ethical way in long run it will be good, more over this UP, Bihar people sucks , they looted in their home state landed in other states to create more trouble that's it
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                Parth Garg
                Jul 5, 2017 at 2:52 pm
                The BJP hate mongers could not digest a protest. They immediately start raising UP Bihar or similar regional issues as if the local traders were all holy cows. Down with blind Bhakts.
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