Surat’s textile and diamond industry is still reeling from demonetisation and GST. Some are convinced this was necessary, others hope for change.
The 451 Textile Market is one of several wholesale markets on Surat’s Ring Road. But while the rest of the road is busy and noisy, the textile market wears a quiet, vacant look.
In one of the stores in this market, the owner and his employees are busy watching the India versus Sri Lanka cricket match.
“This is our peak season, with weddings on in full swing. You would never see the market so empty. Now, we are all just sitting looking at each other, watching the match. GST killed our business,” the shop owner says. He refuses to be named for fear of being targeted.
“For 20-25 days after the GST roll out, the entire textile market was closed. We never saw our chartered accountant earlier, but now he is like god to us. We are yet to recover from the shock of GST. I have always been a BJP voter, but this time, our affiliation has changed. I will vote for the Congress,” he says.
Move a little inside the market, and Pareshbhai of Vivek Textiles is sipping tea.
“Our business went down by 50 per cent post GST. Yes, there is a lot of discontent with how GST was implemented, but we also know in the long run it had to be done. There might be some disappointment with the BJP, but what is the option here? You wait and see, most will end up voting for the BJP despite this,” he says.
The mood in Surat’s famous textile industry ahead of the upcoming elections can be described as mixed. All textile traders and wholesalers admit their business has taken a huge hit post-GST, and the BJP is to be blamed for its implementation. While some say the anger is enough to sway the BJP’s traditional vote bank away, most others say the anger is subsiding, and thanks to a lack of alternative, will not translate into mass move away from it.
Surat district has 16 assembly seats of which the BJP won 15 and the Congress one in 2012.
In the Adarsh Textile Market across the road, Ashok Jindal at International Fashion says several textile businessmen are upset with the BJP and that might affect the election. Jindal, however, feels most would still vote BJP, including him, with the caveat of a “stronger opposition”.
Devilal Lodha of Vasu Print in the Surat Textile Market, the oldest such market in the city, says: “We have been worried. Our business went down by 50 per cent. But there is no alternative. Since the BJP is ruling at the Centre, what is the point of getting Congress in the state? Plus, GST had to happen. See, in a household, if the mukhiya (head) takes a difficult decision, you bear with it and don’t throw him out. It’s the same with Modi ji.”
Kansingh Rajput in the same market adds: “Let me explain what happened with GST. When you move from a two-lane to four-lane highway, the transition is tough, with excessive traffic. But later, you enjoy the four-lane road. It’s the same way with GST. Hence, overall, Modi’s work is appreciated.”
While the textile industry was hurt by GST, Surat’s famous diamond industry was hit by both demonetisation and GST.
At the Diamond World building in Varachha in Surat, Brijesh Jalawadiya says it’s both demonetisation and GST that hurt the industry.
“A lot of our buyers pay in cash. Demonetisation obviously impacted that. GST only added to our difficulties. See, we want to teach the BJP a lesson by ensuring a strong opposition, so it doesn’t do whatever it wants. But we still want a BJP government,” he adds.
At the Sardar Patel market in Mini Bazar, the sentiment is echoed. While diamond cutters and polishers blame BJP for the dual blow of demonetisation and GST, they feel they have no option. Except those like Anil Patel.
“For me, the concern is the Patel agitation. I am for Hardik Patel. I want the BJP out,” he says.
Anil Patel does underline the fact that as a businessman, while hit by BJP’s policies, he would still have gone with it. But as a Patel, caste calculations matter more.
Clearly, the underlying dynamics in Surat’s famous textile and diamond industries will cast a shadow in these elections, but the impact is reflected only by mixed signals.
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