You are the biggest stakeholders in the economy, PM Modi tells traders

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Traders Sammelan in Talkatora Stadium, New Delhi, on Friday | Photo: Dalip Kumar
Five years ago, then Gujarat chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi wooed traders from all across the country with the promise of trust, ease of doing business and a better tomorrow. On Friday, Modi returned to the party’s key vote bank, seeking another term while setting the target to take India to 50th rank in Ease of Doing Business in five years and committing a policy for small traders. 

“You are the biggest stakeholders in the economy,’’ the PM said, while addressing more than 1,000 traders at Talkatora Indoor Stadium in the Capital on Friday evening, in the midst of a phir ek baar Modi sarkar chant. If the clap and cheer could be any measure, Modi should be back as PM.   

Responding to the high-pitch welcome, the PM listed the achievements of the past five years while lambasting the Congress for its “failures of 70 years’’, in a style that had election written all over. While counting the many positives of the goods and services tax, he left out any mention of demonetisation, the biggest disruption for small and medium traders during the current rule of the BJP-led NDA government.

There was no talk on foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail either. In its campaign for the 2014 election, the BJP had told traders that FDI in multi-brand retail wouldn’t be allowed if it was voted to power. In the past five years, no FDI proposal has been entertained by this government. Even as he put forward a to-do list, including a national policy for small traders, the creation of a national trader welfare board, fixed pensions and accident insurance, Modi’s thrust was on giving “respect” to traders. According to the PM, during the Congress rule, there was dearth of respect for traders.

Addressing a packed auditorium at the national conclave of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), Modi said the Congress had labelled traders inherently criminal. “Gandhiji used to take pride in saying he belonged to the trader community, but his party has over the past 70 years thrived on calling traders thieves," Modi said. 

This was the first time any PM was addressing a gathering of traders, according to representatives of the CAIT. Praveen Khandelwal, national secretary general of the CAIT, who uses ‘Chowkidar’ as a prefix in his Twitter account (following the PM), told Business Standard it’s clear that “the trading community will be a priority for Modi when he forms the next government’’. On Saturday, traders will take an “official’’ call on who to vote for after analysing the manifestos. Traders claim they would be united in that decision.

What about the Congress? Hasn’t it reached out to this community? It seems the core committees of traders had sent across their wishlist to all political parties, but only the BJP responded.

Not that traders have not been angry with the Modi government in the past. Both after demonetisation and introduction of the GST, their businesses were hurt, but things are coming back on track, most of those who attended Modi’s address said. Once the new government takes over, the traders’ bodies want to take up issues such as subsidy for computerisaton, funds for infrastructure development and further easing of norms.

However, on Friday, there was no second opinion on who will form the next government. “Undoubtedly, it will be Modi government again,’’ said Rajesh Dave, a jeweller from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, after the three-hour event that was peppered with speeches, songs and dances and plenty of nationalism. Sporting a main bhi chowkidar tee, Nayan Jhaveri, who’s into chemical business, listed out reasons why Modi’s the best PM and the vote is for him. 

A textile businessman Pankaj Seth refused to get drawn into any conversation about demonetization, saying, there’s been no problem at all in the last five years. “It’s surprising how he comes out with so many novel ideas….’’ Wearing a NaMo shirt, Pradeep Gehlot, owner of a construction business, told this newspaper that the promises made by the PM will be incremental to the benefits BJP has already provided. This includes the way it has become easier to purchase commodities like sand and stones, which earlier faced problems such as items getting stolen in transit and low quality, as well as counterfeit goods reaching the market.

For the 70-million traders across the country, Modi managed to hit all the right notes on Friday, reiterating the promises made in the election manifesto of the BJP — a party traditionally known as being close to the trading community. He added to the manifesto list by announcing that loans worth Rs 1 trillion would be disbursed to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) by 2024, which currently stands at Rs 19,000 crore. He also had something to offer to start-ups, a sector that was part of many signature schemes of the NDA government. Ideal conditions will be created for 50,000 new start-ups to flourish, the PM said. 

On GST, Modi said the number of registered traders had nearly doubled since the implementation of the new tax regime. Regarding easing of rules, he said: “I had promised you in 2014 before I became PM that I will abolish one regulation a day as against a policy formed a day by the Congress.’’ Pointing out that he had kept his word, he added, “In five years, I have abolished 1,500 regulations.’’  

While concluding his hour-long speech, the PM presented his “daily’’ report card: Around 11,000 new homes were handed over to homeless citizens every day; 50,000 homes got power; 9,000 benefitted from Ayushman Bharat; 70,000 women received cooking gas connections; 200,000 new bank accounts were opened under Jan Dhan Yojana…. Just like traders calculate their daily earnings at the end of every business day, “I have to keep account of the country's development every single day,” Modi said.

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