Opinion

Workers will have a tough time in Modi’s second term

Workers have seen how Modi whittled down country’s profitable public sector enterprises and pushed them into sickness by bleeding their resources dry only to offer their carcass to the corporates

Representative Image (social media)
Representative Image (social media)

B Sivaraman/IPA

Mein…mein…mein…mein—No, that wasn’t any bleating of the sheep. Rather, it was the self-centric vainglorious laurels a victorious leader was heaping on himself at his victory rally. But Modi’s victory this time is a questionable one that has all the hallmarks of a manufactured and manipulated victory. Modi magic 2.0 looks much more unreal. And magics and miracles do turn out to be curses in politics.

Whatever it is, one would have expected the leader of this enigmatic victory to have briefly outlined his vision for the future 5 years for the nation and its people. One would have eagerly expected him to elaborate on his agenda on what he expected to roll out in the next few months in concrete terms. Alas, the victory speech was a big disappointment before a puzzled nation.

Mr Modi made just a single isolated reference to the working class. That was related to the paltry pension scheme for unorganised workers that would deliver a pittance of ₹3000 per month after 40 years, not worth a box of lollipop even then. Modi’s missing right-hand man Arun Jaitley announced a target of 100 million beneficiaries when he rolled out the scheme during first Modi government’s last budget but in his victory rally Modi claims the beneficiaries would number 40 crore! Workers can only ask: who’s the liar!

The man about to take oath as Prime Minister cleverly avoided uttering a single word about the employment crisis of the youth. 65% of India or nearly 85 crore people who gave him a clear majority are below 35 years of age. Just after he began his first term, in 2015, youth unemployment among them stood at 10%or about 8 crore young people were unemployed. In 2018, it marginally increased to 10.50% in percentage terms but in absolute terms it increased by 1.3 crore thanks to those newly joining the expanding workforce. Modi had nothing specific to offer them in his victory rally just as the poll manifesto of his party failed to make even a mention of the problem.

Modi said that his Swachch Bharat had taken care of the issue of dignity of women with constructed toilets. But he had nothing to say about guaranteeing protection to them from rapists and molesters mushrooming in his Shreshta Bharat! Worse, he doesn’t seem to be disturbed if only one out of every eight educated women finds herself in the labour force and the rest dropout thanks mainly due to insecurity at work and in commuting and lack of options and opportunities for care work.

He seems unperturbed if his coalition government that nearly swept Bihar in the polls thought it fit to pay ₹37 as daily wage for women mid-day meal workers. At the national level, his government revised the floor-level minimum wage to a shamelessly paltry ₹176 per day.

In the name of removing labour market rigidities to attract foreign capital for his ‘Make-in-India’ programme, in his first term he consolidated many labour laws relating to industrial disputes into a Labour Code on Industrial Dispute which effectively denied the right to strike when collective bargaining is on. New labour laws were meant only to deny labour rights won in the battles of seven decades.

Similar labour codes on wages, social security and welfare and occupational safety remained pending as these consolidated codes were full of new anti-labour provisions depriving many hard-won labour rights and the trade unions were resisting these with all their might. Emboldened by its magic victory, Modi Government 2.0 would rollout the unfinished agenda again and renew the offensive against the labour. Corporates played no mean a role in Modi’s manufactured victory, and It would be time for thanksgiving.

Workers have seen to their shock how Mr. Modi whittled down the country’s profitable public sector enterprises and pushed them into sickness and death by bleeding their resources dry only to offer their carcass for a song to the corporates.

Under Modi’s first five years, the economy was flat and all his jumlabaji could not lift it up. If Modi’s first term earned the sobriquet of being a Jumlabaji Sarkar, the second term steps into a post-truth era from day one victory march. But lies cannot be sustained for long, especially before the working class.

Under Modi’s dispensation in his first term, by 31 March 2019, 1143 defaulting companies were pending before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) for resolution under Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). In other words, most of them were facing liquidation with no protection or guarantees for workers. IBC overrides even the minimal protection offered to the workers against arbitrary closures under Chapter VB of the Industrial Disputes Act. Meanwhile, in April 2019, the Supreme Court gave an otherwise landmark judgement that allowed the trade unions to initiate insolvency proceedings under IBC against managements failing to clear workers’ dues in time. But no worker would want her company to be liquidated at the first opportunity but would only like to see that revived. But Modi has no plans for revival of tens of thousands indebted companies expected to come under NCLT in his second term.

The reason why the victorious Modi merely sounded as a rabble-rouser—with even his characteristic rhetorical flourish clearly missing—is not difficult to fathom. He simply doesn’t have a clue on multiple crises facing the nation. Of course, rightwing surge centred on strong man-syndrome and bogus nationalism is a global phenomenon. Modi, in his victory, only re-joins the league of Trump, Erdogan and the rightwing President Bolsonaro of Brazil and many others of their ilk.

Misled by his superman syndrome, the suicide-prone farmers in distress could have still voted for him. Hoping desperately for some miracle, the unorganised labourers and the poor might have still opted for him with their half-hearted vote, especially when he and his servile media worked overtime to create a myth of there being no alternative. Undramatic election process can be made to produce a “dramatic victory” by massive event-organising and media management. But more dramatic the dubious victory is made to appear, the more Pyrrhic it gets. If history is any indication, such Pyrrhic victories devour their victors sooner or later.

It goes without saying that the challenges before the working class in Modi’s second term are much more onerous.

For all the latest India News, Follow India Section.