Congress President Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly targeted the Narendra Modi government over the goods and services tax (GST) or what he calls the “Gabbar Singh Tax” and demonetisation. However, in the Prime Minister’s home state, diamond traders are not complaining about GST and demonetisation anymore. CNBC-TV18 traveled to India’s diamond manufacturing hub of Surat, which exports 2.5 lakh crore worth of diamonds every year, to understand what issues will influence their decision to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Jagdish Bhai, a diamond trader said, “GST and demonetisation were issues when they were announced but no things have settled down.” Another trader pointed out that there is little reason for opposition to talk about GST now as most issues related to it have been resolved and it’s good that work is happening legally.
The Surat diamond industry employs over 20 lakh people. Diamond seller Harish Trivedi who works out of the Hira Mandi said, “Unemployment is the biggest issue today and the next govt must focus on increasing employment opportunities.” Badri Nawde, a ratna kalakar or a worker in a diamond polishing unit, said he hoped the next government would focus on increasing the income and employment opportunities for workers like him. He said, “Employment opportunities should increase and the country should do well, that’s all I want.” All traders and manufactures in the diamond polishing hub of Surat are aware of the Punjab National Bank scam involving diamantaire Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksey. They all admit that getting a loan has become tougher after the scam came to light and loans are crucial for the diamond trade. Some traders said this is not necessarily bad. Diamond manufacturer Suresh Bhai Goyani said, “Nirav Modi scam has definitely made getting loans difficult. Banks now come to check everything including your name, address and background.
They’re doing the right thing because if you start giving loans to everyone then the common man suffers if the loan goes bad”. The Surat seat was once represented by former Prime Minister Morarji Desai. It has been a BJP bastion since 1989. Babubhai Gujarati, the President of the diamond association says, “I don’t know about the national picture but, in Gujarat, I know the BJP will win all 26 seats. Modi did a lot of work in Gujarat in 12 years and in Delhi as PM. He is the biggest national leader after Sardar Patel to have roots in Gujarat”. In the 2017 Assembly election, the BJP was reduced to its lowest ever tally of 99 seats whereas the Congress gained and won 77 seats. The party is hoping to replicate this success in Lok Sabha polls even though the party unit in Gujarat has seen over 8 defections in the last few months, including that of Alpesh Thakore.