'The trading community will be a priority for Modi when he forms the next government.'
Subhayan Chakraborty and Nivedita Mookerji report.
Five years ago, then Gujarat chief minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Damodardas Modi wooed traders from all across the country with the promise of trust, ease of doing business and a better tomorrow.
On Friday, April 19, Modi returned to the party’s key vote bank, seeking another term while setting the target to take India to 50th rank in Ease of Doing Business in five years and committing a policy for small traders.
"You are the biggest stakeholders in the economy," the PM said, while addressing more than 1,000 traders at the Talkatora indoor stadium in the capital on Friday evening, in the midst of a 'phir ek baar Modi sarkar' chant.
If the clap and cheer could be any measure, Modi should be back as PM.
Responding to the high-pitch welcome, the PM listed the achievements of the past five years while lambasting the Congress for its 'failures of 70 years' in a style that had election written all over.
While counting the many positives of the Goods and Services Tax, he left out any mention of demonetisation, the biggest disruption for small and medium traders during the current rule of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government.
There was no talk on foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail either.
In its campaign for the 2014 election, the BJP had told traders that FDI in multi-brand retail would not be allowed if it was voted to power.
In the past five years, no FDI proposal has been entertained by this government.
Even as he put forward a to-do list, including a national policy for small traders, the creation of a national trader welfare board, fixed pensions and accident insurance, Modi's thrust was on giving "respect" to traders.
According to the PM, during the Congress rule, there was dearth of respect for traders.
Addressing a packed auditorium at the national conclave of the Confederation of All India Traders, Modi said the Congress had labelled traders inherently criminal.
"Gandhiji used to take pride in saying he belonged to the trader community, but his party has over the past 70 years thrived on calling traders thieves," Modi said.
This was the first time any PM was addressing a gathering of traders, according to representatives of the CAIT.
Praveen Khandelwal, national secretary general, CAIT, who uses 'Chowkidar' as a prefix in his Twitter account (following the PM), says it is clear that "the trading community will be a priority for Modi when he forms the next government."
What about the Congress? Hasn't it reached out to this community? It seems the core committees of traders had sent across their wishlist to all political parties, but only the BJP responded.
Not that traders have not been angry with the Modi government in the past.
Both after demonetisation and introduction of the GST, their businesses were hurt, but things are coming back on track, most of those who attended Modi's address said.
Once the new government takes over, the traders bodies want to take up issues such as subsidy for computerisaton, funds for infrastructure development and further easing of norms.
However, on Friday, there was no second opinion on who will form the next government.
"Undoubtedly, it will be a Modi government again," says Rajesh Dave, a jeweller from Delhi's Chandni Chowk, after the three-hour event that was peppered with speeches, songs and dances and plenty of nationalism.
Sporting a main bhi chowkidar tee, Nayan Jhaveri, who is into chemical business, listed out reasons why Modi is the best PM and the vote is for him.
A textile businessman Pankaj Seth refused to get drawn into any conversation about demonetisation, saying, there has been no problem at all in the last five years. "It is surprising how he comes out with so many novel ideas."
Wearing a NaMo shirt, Pradeep Gehlot, owner of a construction business, says the promises made by the PM will be incremental to the benefits the BJP has already provided.
This includes the way it has become easier to purchase commodities like sand and stones, which earlier faced problems such as items getting stolen in transit and low quality, as well as counterfeit goods reaching the market.