| Vajpayee at the Earth Day celebration in Delhi. (PTI)
New Delhi, April 22: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked BJP legislators not to air their views on VAT (value-added tax) and Cenvat (Central value-added tax) publicly but confine them to party meetings.
Addressing a routine BJP parliamentary party meeting today, Vajpayee asked his MPs to direct their queries and doubts to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani who, in turn, would brief finance minister Jaswant Singh. Members were told that the two would put their heads together and see how the problems raised by them could be addressed.
Briefing the press on the meeting, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra quoted Vajpayee as saying: “Alag alag logon ka swarth hota hain (Different people have their own interests). BJP MPs should take up the cause of these interest sectors within party fora. But once the party or government decides on a policy, everybody should accept it and not speak out against it. Otherwise, this presents a picture of disunity.”
The finance minister, who was also present, reiterated that VAT was a state subject. The states were free to implement the decision in whatever manner they chose and there was no pressure from the Centre.
The VAT issue has proved prickly for the pro-traders’ section of the BJP and it has pleaded with the party brass to scrap it. Singh has made his position clear over and over again but, apparently, the MPs were not convinced with his explanations. Delhi BJP sources, for instance, said their own traders’ associations asked MPs why the Centre was bent on implementing VAT. The line that the state government was free to do what it wished did not wash with them, they said.
The issue had also come up in a meeting convened by Vajpayee at his residence last Sunday.
Singh today also hinted to the MPs that the government could tone down some of the budget proposals that had hit the vulnerable sections of society. Malhotra quoted Singh as saying that the power loom and readymade garment industry — which constituted a chunk of the self-employed sector — would be “protected” and he would ensure that no jobs were lost. “I will make my position clear in my reply,” the BJP spokesman quoted the finance minister as saying.
Singh said that with the WTO treaty coming into force, the textile industry would have to reorient and prepare itself to face competition in the international market. “But the self-employed sector which uses its own machines and other equipment will be protected,” he assured the MPs.
The garment industry constitutes the backbone of Delhi’s small industry and the local BJP feared that some of the “harsh” budget proposals relating to this sector could adversely impact its electoral prospects.
MPs from western Uttar Pradesh brought up the issue of the problems faced by sugar-cane growers. The Prime Minister told them that Advani would shortly convene a meeting with chief minister Mayavati, which would also include the BJP representatives from the area, to thrash out their problem.