It was pressure from within the BJP that drove the Narendra Modi government to develop cold feet on the non-populist idea and not Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s protests against the proposal to tax EPF withdrawal.
The decision would have directly affected nearly 60 million salaried professionals, largely considered to be supporters of the present regime. There was a realisation within the government that the decision could alter the positive narrative it was trying to build in presenting the Budget that focused on the farm sector in infrastructure creation.
“The decision was aimed at creating a pensioned society in India. Perhaps, it is an idea whose time has not come. Good governance and good politics need to go together,” a senior cabinet minister told HT.
That four states and one union territory also go to the polls between April and May was another reason for the government to take a look back at its proposal.
It was under tremendous pressure from the RSS affiliates, such as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch, to bury the idea. The relationship between the Sangh affiliates and the government experienced strain in the past over land acquisition law and labour reform proposal. The government was disinclined to strain it further.
Even the party was not comfortable with the idea. Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel, who succeeded Modi as head of the state, too had demanded a rollback. An uneasiness among BJP parliamentarians was equally palpable.
The party appeared in a tearing hurry to not allow Gandhi any opportunity to use the occasion to his advantage.
“Congress and Rahul Gandhi can take credit for all decisions. He can take credit for the passage of GST and other bills if he lets Parliament function and helps the government in the passage of bills. These are not the bills of BJP but of the country,” BJP secretary Shrikant Sharma said.