The narrow bylanes of Bapu Bazar, one of Jaipur’s preferred shopping destinations, are filled with stores selling bandhani dupattas, cotton clothing, saris, gems and jewellery. But it’s not just competition that worries the entrepreneurs of Rajasthan.
Traditional mom-and-pop stores in the desert state faced a double-whammy following the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) and the rapid expansion of online marketplaces.
“GST has impacted us greatly," said Tekchand Jesswani of Hema Saree Emporium, a garment shop sandwiched between two others. The Union government imposed a GST of 5% to 18% in July 2017 on consumer goods, such as saris and cotton clothing, which has led to extra manpower and additional cost of ₹5,000-10,000 per month to keep accounts.
Capital Jaipur along with 11 other constituencies will figure in phase V of the Lok Sabha elections on 6 May, while 13 seats voted in phase IV on 29 April. It is a direct contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress as in previous polls. This is one of the few states where no regional party has emerged in the last few years.
However, businessmen across the state are desolate about their prospects under a new government. “Who it is, doesn’t matter. They haven’t looked out for us," said Narendra Morani, who owns a kurti-making factory in Sanganer, a town south of Jaipur known for textiles. “We’re not highly educated people. We are filing way too many taxes and are burdened with too much paperwork."
Some are, however, hopeful that GST will benefit honest businessmen. “Both GST and demonetization brought about some problems when implemented initially. But that is the case when any change happens. When you clean your house, you face inconvenience for a few days. Now, it has brought benefits and transparency to the system," said Ramesh Sutha, a tailor in Gangaur Ghat in Udaipur, which went to polls on Monday.
Their individual concerns notwithstanding, businessmen are aware that the Congress may not be the best option at the centre. “We want a government that can focus on marketing small businesses and providing them the right exposure," said Tolaram Roopani, who owns a garment store, Teen Divas, at the World Trade Park, a mall in Jaipur.
“Vishwas Modi pe hai (I believe in Modi)," Shyam Sundar, the owner of a bedsheet store in Bapu Bazar, said.
Traditional businesses are increasingly worried about the impact of online retailers. “Online shopping has been the biggest disruptor. If you can buy an item and return it sitting at home, why would you waste money and time coming to a shop," asked He said e-commerce firms sell at lower rates than traditional shops as they buy in bulk.
Only in power for six months, current chief minister Ashok Gehlot is known for building infrastructure such as roads and electricity during his earlier tenure, which have helped develop Jaipur’s tourism and retail prospects. However, the general elections are a different ball game and rest on one persona currently.
Sundar said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the face of the party and the country’s future for him, though the representative of his own constituency in Jaipur, Ramchanran Bohra—who belongs to the BJP—has not done extraordinarily well.