Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday to “leave” Union finance minister Arun Jaitley’s side if he did not want to lose the support of traders.
Gold traders, jewellers and artisans have been observing strike since March 2, demanding roll-back of the budgetary proposal of excise duty on non-silver jewellery that has impacted the trade.
Addressing a gathering of jewellers at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, Kejriwal warned BJP of “erosion” in its support base among traders and wondered if Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Modi had any differences at all as the ruling BJP was “implementing” the policies of the UPA dispensation.
“The notion was that BJP is a party of traders. Then what has happened now? I want to tell the PM that Jaitley ji will not have to gather votes or contest elections. You need votes so please be a little careful. If jewellers are cheated, then traders will leave BJP’s side,” Kejriwal said.
The Aam Aadmi Party convener’s address, peppered with sharp jibes at the PM and his pet projects such as ‘Make in India’, was lapped up by a sizeable crowd that repeatedly raised slogans against Modi and Jaitley.
Kejriwal claimed that BJP MPs and even Union ministers are in “favour” of the jewellers’ demands contrary to the PM’s “adamance”. “Even MPs are wondering as to what Jaitley has explained to the PM.” “BJP is on one side and PM on the other. But why? PM is under the total control of Jaitley. I am smaller in terms of age, experience than Modi ji but have a small suggestion for him. Please leave Jaitley ji’s side, he will take you down,” Kejriwal said.
He also read out a series of tweets made by Modi in his capacity as Gujarat chief minister where he had opposed a similar move by the erstwhile UPA government to impose 1% excise duty on non-silver jewellery.
“What has changed? People thought the PM is with them but you have cheated them. Congress used to impose excise duty and people brought you to power thinking you won’t repeat the same. But now that you have repeated the act, what difference is there between you and Sonia Gandhi?” Kejriwal said.
Gold traders, jewellers and artisans have been observing strike since March 2 demanding a roll-back of the budgetary proposal that has impacted the trade which, Kejriwal said, runs into over Rs 1 lakh crore.
Kejriwal claimed that due to the budget proposal having impacted their business severely, four to five traders have committed “suicide” in the last one month.
“Some jeweller friends told me that one more person committed suicide last evening over the policies,” he said.
Few protesters, carrying the banner of Guest Teachers’ Association, raised slogans against Kejriwal before being removed by the police even as his nearly 30-minute-long speech was interrupted by glitches in the sound system.
“The duty was imposed without consulting traders. It will only lead to inspector raj and a spike in corruption. The cost of collection would be much more than what the government hopes to earn,” Kejriwal said. The excise duty will have a “strangulating” impact on the jewellery sector, Kejriwal said, adding that it flies in the face of Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. “You go to America, Japan seeking investments. But you are strangulating a flourishing business in the country. I don’t get the logic behind it. First, save your own countrymen, then call the foreigners,” Kejriwal said.
“The PM can embrace (Pakistani counterpart) Nawaz Sharif on his birthday, but can’t talk to jewellers,” he said in reference to the surprise visit by Modi to Lahore in December last year.
Kejriwal also claimed that President Pranab Mukherjee had extended his “full support” to the cause of the jewellers when he had taken a delegation to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
“Congress had tried the same and Pranab Mukherjee was the finance minister then. When jewellers protested continuously for around 22 days, the excise duty was withdrawn. “The President told me he was aware that imposing the excise duty would lead to corruption and thus it should not be introduced,” Kejriwal said while pointing to Delhi government’s “prompt” decision to roll back VAT on certain items after traders expressed unhappiness over the same.
Kejriwal also read out the names of 10 top industrialists who he claimed owe around “Rs 7,30,000 crore” to the banks. “They are not even paying interest but spend thousands of crores on lavish birthday parties, gifting their wives aeroplanes,” he said. “BJP leaders warned people not to come to my rally. I wonder why they are scared of the quarter CM of a half-state. Don’t rile the traders. You will have to face dire consequences if they wish you ill. The trading community across the country will abandon BJP,” warned Kejriwal.