New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), smarting from defeats in recent polls and riven by divisions at the top, is trying to live up to its role as the country’s main Opposition party, with protests against the proposed direct tax code, seeking to rally its traditional support base among traders.
The party, which has renewed its attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over corruption accusations against some of his cabinet colleagues, accuses the government of a lack of clarity and discussion with stakeholders, especially traders and small taxpayers. The government, which has floated a proposed tax code for debate, says it is aimed at overhauling an archaic taxation system.
“Traders, who contribute a huge chunk to the government exchequer, are kept out of the discussion on GST (goods and services tax) and the direct tax code,” said BJP chief Rajnath Singh, addressing a demonstration organized by the traders’ cell of the party in New Delhi on Tuesday. “Bureaucrats and political masters will not be allowed to decide the fate of the domestic trade and families engaged in it.”
He said his party would take up the issue in the winter session of Parliament, starting 19 November.
On Monday, the BJP attacked the Prime Minister alleging he had “defended” telecommunications minister A. Raja while investigations were still on into the 2G (second generation) spectrum allocation. The Central Bureau of Investigation last week searched the offices of the department of telecommunications to probe the alleged “criminal conspiracy” between some officials and private companies in allocation of wireless radio spectrum.
The BJP, in a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister, demanded on Tuesday that the trading and business community be taken into confidence before proceeding with the “arbitrary manner of implementation of the changes in tax structure as done during the switchover to the VAT (valued-added tax) regime.”
The ruling Congress denied the BJP’s contention.
“There is a broad-based consultation on the issue and the empowered committee of finance ministers, which is looking into the matter, is a multi-state and multi-party committee,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari.
Seeking support base: BJP leaders protesting against the government’s proposed direct tax code near Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Tuesday. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Tuesday’s demonstration, which wasn’t heavily attended, was addressed by the BJP’s top leadership, including the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, and former party president Murli Manohar Joshi.
“The chartered accountants’ cell of the party has compiled more than 300 loopholes in the direct tax code proposals,” said Jaitley, a former corporate lawyer. “We will release them soon and confront them for a proper answer.”
While Jaitley said the party would “stand by the people” and expose the loopholes in the government’s direct tax code proposals, analysts say the renewed vigour in the party is part of its realization that it needs to rally popular support on mass issues.
Trader representatives from at least 12 states attended the agitation, which the BJP’s Singh said would be extended to state capitals and district headquarters in the coming days.
One of the traders at the BJP demonstration said the tax proposals were confusing.
“We were told that VAT would be uniform nationwide, which is not true today. Now, there is something called the GST being talked about and a completely new direct tax proposal is also being tried,” said Suraj Prakash, a wholesaler of pulses from Punjab, who led a team of 10 party activists to the Capital to attend the demonstration.
“We see it as a plot to discourage domestic retail trade and bring in international players,” he said.