Key functionaries of GST Sangharsh Samiti, the outfit spearheading the Surat textile traders’ protest against imposition of GST, have been holding important executive posts in political parties like BJP, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). With the Assembly elections later this year, sources said, the agitation was a mean to gain political mileage, and perhaps tickets to contest the polls. There are over 70,000 textile trading shops in 165 textile markets of Surat with a daily turnover of around Rs 130 crore. Due to the ongoing agitation, the industry has suffered losses to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees.
The agitation that started on June 15 as a day-long strike called by the Federation of Surat Textile Traders Association (FOSTTA) has now entered its 22nd day. The newly formed GST Sangharsh Samiti is endorsed by the FOSTTA. Top leaders of GST Sangharsh Samiti, including Tarachand Kasat, Champalal Bothra and Jaylal, not only keep a hold on textile traders, but have active political careers.
Kasat, president the Samiti, is BJP’s Surat city executive committee member and active member of the party since 1982. He had fought the municipal elections in 2002, but lost. Bothra, secretary in the agitating body, holds posts of vice-president of Surat city Congress and general secretary in the state Congress Economic cell. He is associated with the party for 30 years.
Jaylal, spokesperson of the Samiti, is associated with AAP and had arranged for Arvind Kejriwal’s public meeting at Convention Hall of Veer Narmad South Gujarat University in Surat last year. The event, however, was cancelled.
With their leaders being active members of political parties, a section of textile traders too have decided to take up the issue of imposition of 5 per cent GST on the industry with either BJP president Amit Shah or Congress’s Gujarat affairs in-charge Ashok Gehlot.
Traders at New Cloth Market in Ahmedabad, who supported the Surat agitation, have already opened shops and now decided to meet Shah to resolve the matter. The BJP president would in the state on Friday to preside over a “page pramukh” convention of the party.
“The textile markets in Ahmedabad are open and functional,” said Gaurang Bhagat, president of Maskati Cloth Market Association. “We thought it was better to keep our outlets open before going to meet BJP president Amit Shah to sort out the matter. It will not look good otherwise. Sooner or later the government needs to resolve the issue, after all the government in Delhi has roots in Gujarat.”
Expressing solidarity with Surat traders, textile merchants in Ahmedabad had shutdown business for three days before GST kicked in on July 1.
Meanwhile, a few members of the GST Sangharsh Samiti, including Bothra, owing allegiance to Congress met Gehlot at the Circuit House in Surat on Thursday and requested him to take up the issue with the party leadership and also in Parliament.
Bothra said, “The reasons for making representation on the issue were injustice and lathi-charge on the traders.”
Sources said that Gehlot was of the view that the NDA government should have given sufficient time to the traders to prepare for the new tax regime.
While Kasat told The Indian Express, “We don’t want politics on the ongoing agitation” and fighting “leaving aside our political egos”, Bothra said, “Our body had made representations to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. We have also made representation to Congress leader Gehlot. Our motive is to have GST lifted from the textile trade.”
Even as the textile business in the city remained affected for the 13th consecutive day amid protest, the rally on on Thursday was put off till Saturday.
Not taking any chance, police personnel deployed for the agitation were provided protective riot gear. Seeing 50-odd police personnel in protective gear, besides a large contingent in khaki, Kasat said, “The traders are not criminals and deploying such a large number of police force at the meeting spot was not a good idea. We are protesting peacefully.” The police maintained that the gear was for “precaution” and to “prevent any untoward incident”.
Inputs from Avinash Nair, Ahmedabad