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Traders and cloth merchants across Gujarat had been protesting against the GST rollout and could have dented the BJP’s poll prospects later this year

Terming it an “early Diwali”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked to assuage dissent among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in poll-bound Gujarat by lauding the government’s move to revise the Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates as he addressed the public in Dwarka on Saturday.

Traders and cloth merchants, who carry substantial clout and influence in the Gujarat’s political landscape, had been protesting against the Modi government’s GST rollout for months as the high tax rates under the new unified tax regime had hit their business hard. It had largely been touted that the unrest among the trader lobby in Gujarat could have dented the BJP’s poll prospects in the state that goes to Assembly elections later this year.

The BJP has managed to stay in power in Gujarat since 1995 despite major political churning and signs of its citadel crumbling on more than one occasion – most notably after the 2002 post-Godhra pogrom. However, ever since Modi – who had managed to keep the BJP’s political fortunes in the state on an upswing even after the 2002 riots – moved to New Delhi as Prime Minister in May 2014, his party’s poll prospects have been uncertain. The state has, since May 2014, seen two chief ministers – Anandiben Patel and incumbent Vijay Rupani – and three major long-drawn anti-BJP agitations, first by the party’s loyal votebank – the Patel/Patidar community, then from Dalits and most recently by traders affected by the GST rollout.

It is thus difficult to believe that the change in GST rates meant primarily to curb dissent among owners of macro and small enterprises, and traders, cloth merchants and small retailers like Khakra (one of the most popular Gujarati snacks) manufacturing household industries came on the eve of Modi’s two-day visit to his home state ostensibly aimed at kick-starting his party’s poll campaign. Modi’s visit to Gujarat follows a three-day tour of the state’s Saurashtra region by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi earlier last week during which he hit out at the BJP government for its failure to create jobs and also over the GST rollout.

The change in GST rates that was announced on Friday night – a day after Modi’s ‘emergency meeting’ with BJP national president Amit Shah and finance minister Arun Jaitley – has expectedly given the Prime Minister and self-appointed flagbearer of Gujarati asmita an opportunity to flaunt his government and party’s sensitivity towards the concerns of the small and medium scale enterprises and traders.

Stating that he was happy with the reception to the changes in GST, Modi told the public gathering in Dwarka that his government had further simplified the unified tax system.

The stated objective of the public gathering was foundation stone laying ceremony for a four-lane cable stayed signature bridge between Okha and Beyt Dwarka to be built at a cost of Rs 962.42 crore. However, Modi did not miss to utilize the opportunity to harp about the change in GST rate cuts.

“Today, everywhere it is being said that Diwali has come 15 days ahead. I am happy… We had said that we will study GST implementation for three months and shall overcome any discrepancies. Our finance minister (Arun Jaitley) convinced everyone in GST council to bring changes,” Modi claimed.

“When there is trust in the government and policies are made with best intentions, it is natural for people to support us. I thank people of this country for their support,” Modi asserted.

It is, however, a different matter that the Prime Minister’s tall claims of his government’s sensitivity towards the problems that the public was facing because of what economic experts Opposition leaders and BJP veterans like Yashwant Sinha termed as “hasty implementation of GST” also come at a time when the slowdown in India’s economy is being attributed in part to the new tax regime.

Modi also announced the setting up of India’s first and biggest marine police training institute at Mojap in Dwarka district. “I would like to give a gift to the people of Gujarat that will benefit the entire country. For security of coastal area, we are working to modernise marine police who look after coastal security till five km from shore. To help train policemen from across the country, a marine police training and research institute will be set up near Mojap,” he said.

Alluding to the rising criticism of his government’s economic agenda, Modi said that development would continue to be the driving force for his government.

“This generation may have suffered poverty but we would take development to such heights that future generations do not get to see poverty,” the PM said.

Through the course of his two-day visit, Modi is scheduled to address six public meetings at launches of various schemes and projects across three regions of his home state.

After Dwarka, Modi also laid the foundation stone for the Rs 2,500-crore Rajkot International Airport on the outskirts of the biggest city in Saurashtra. He also addressed another public rally at the pilgrim town of Chotila in Surendranagar district.

Modi is also scheduled to dedicate a new building of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar to the nation at a function scheduled for Saturday evening.

On Sunday, Modi will visit his birthplace Vadnagar in North Gujarat to inaugurate a Rs 500-crore civil hospital and a medical college, apart from dedicating a re-developed lake and facelift of the Vadnagar railway station.

Modi will also lay the foundation stone of the Rs 1,200-crore Devi Ni Mori International Buddhist complex near Shamlaji in Aravalli district, also in North Gujarat, on Sunday.

Later, the Prime Minister will lay the foundation stone for the Rs 3,000-crore Bhadbhut barrage project over river Narmada, as well as a Rs 650-crore Dahej-Ghogha Ro-Ro ferry service near Bharuch in South Gujarat, before flying off to New Delhi from Vadodara.

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