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After poor bypoll show, BJP rushes to placate ally Akali Dal

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BJP gives in to ally’s sustained demand, waives GST on langar-related purchases.

New Delhi: A day after the BJP saw a poor show in the Lok Sabha and assembly bypolls held across the country, and heard discordant noises from several of its allies, it swiftly sought to make peace with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Thursday night.

The BJP government at the Centre, which had so far paid little heed to the sustained demand of the Akalis and other Sikh groups to waive the goods and services tax (GST) on langar items, launched the Special Financial Assistance for Sewa Bhoj Yojana late Thursday after getting Presidential sanction for it.

The scheme will allow the reimbursement of the CGST (central goods and services tax) and Centre’s share of IGST (integrated goods and services tax) to charitable religious institutions for the purchase of items meant for distribution of free food.

Discontent within

The demand to waive GST on langar purchases — a matter that was repeatedly taken up by the SAD leadership with the finance ministry — is learnt to have caused rumblings of discontent within the BJP-SAD alliance. Reports suggest that union minister and Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal had even threatened to quit if the demand was not met.

In a letter to the prime minister in April, the Bathinda MP, said, “I, as a minister representing the Sikh community in the cabinet, would be failing in my duty if I don’t apprise you that this (GST on ingredients used to prepare langar) has hurt the sentiments of Sikhs worldwide and this is the most important issue that needs to be addressed without delay.”

While the finance ministry and the revenue department had raised concerns regarding the misuse of such exemptions once granted, Kaur addressed those concerns in her letter to the PM.

An opportune moment

The timing of the Centre’s decision and its bid to placate the Akalis is crucial since the BJP is having a hard time keeping its coalition flock together while opposition forces across the country join hands to defeat it in 2019.

Soon after the bypoll results were out Thursday, allies like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the Janata Dal United (JDU) and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) in Bihar began to express their resentment with the BJP.

“It is no secret that discontent has been brewing among some sections of the NDA for quite some time… Mostly, it has been because of the big brotherly attitude shown by the BJP,” the RLSP headed by union minister Upendra Kushwaha, said in a statement.

“We hope that better sense will prevail on the BJP high command and they will sit together to formulate policies that can help strengthen the alliance in the state,” it said.

In March, the BJP saw the loss of an important ally in the south with Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party walking out of the NDA.

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