The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP glosses over flock’s tax tantrums

New Delhi, April 8: One organised a rally in the capital to protest against the implementation of value-added tax. The other led a delegation of traders to the Prime Minister, seeking his intervention to modify the “harsh” provisions of the system.

Shyam Bihari Mishra, a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh, spearheaded the first. Minister of state Vijay Goel led the second.

But the BJP has taken an indulgent view of both despite party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu’s directive to MPs in the last Parliament session not to take their problems to the streets but resolve them in party forums.

“VAT is a mass-based issue and, therefore, we have no objection if it is taken up outside the party forum,” said BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

Mishra, who organised the rally in the Ramlila ground, made it clear that he spearheaded it as a member of the Bharatiya Udyog Vyapari Mandal, which, he said, was a “non-political organisation”. Neither had he sought the party’s permission.

“Why should I'” he said. “The BJP has not said no to protests against VAT.”

BJP sources said the party was in a fix as several state governments, including BJP-ruled Gujarat and Goa, had announced today that they would implement VAT from June 1. “This is the reason we believe that our members should protest outside. As a tax reform measure it may be sound, but VAT is bad politically,” they added.

According to these sources, traders and small businessmen — who form the party’s backbone — would be “hurt” the most. With important Assembly elections round the corner, “unless we correct the misconceptions, we could lose their support”, they said.

A five-member delegation led by the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, V.K. Malhotra, met finance minister Jaswant Singh asking him to review the system because “traders are angry”. The delegation urged him to exempt units with a turnover of up to Rs 1 lakh and not to enforce the CENVAT levy on powerloom factories.

Malhotra later said Singh had told the delegation that the Centre had not ordered the states to implement VAT and they were free to frame their own laws in the matter. He also said the Centre would see to it that the system is not misused to harass traders.

A press release issued by the traders’ group that called on the Prime Minister quoted him as saying that he would look into their grievances. But sources close to Atal Bihari Vajpayee said there was no question of backtracking on the move.

Sources said the BJP’s strategy is to allow its members to make as much “noise” about VAT as they could and try and correct the “misconception” that the Centre was responsible for it. A resolution on the issue was specially adopted at the party’s Indore national executive.

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