Focus

REALITY AND ILLUSION

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By Rajindar Sachar

Last year when BJP with Modi as Prime Minister romped home with an overwhelming majority of its own, people thought that for the next few years, this government was untouchable and any mass discontent would be just wished away. Any such self-conceit amongst the BJP loyalists now remains shattered on the roads of towns and the fields of villages. The reasons are not far to seek. An old adage that you can fool all the people for some time and some people for all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time, is as true today as when it was first formulated.

As it is, even the original impression was totally out of reality, because it should be remembered that Modi majority was occasioned by a faulty electoral system wherein 31 percent of votes cast has given such an overwhelming majority to his party in the Lok Sabha. That is why there is a general view developing whether two important electoral reforms, namely prohibition of corporate sector contributing to election funds (as was in the USA till a couple of years back), and also instead of the present system, should we not think of the list system, known as proportional representation, which is more democratic and reflects the real public opinion more equitably and is prevalent in Europe and many other places.

But, inspite of this reality, BJP government continues to nurse an illusion as witnessed by its stubborn approach to the mass agitation against the controversial Land Acquisition Act 2013 as amended by Ordinances brought in by BJP and efforts to weaken the trade union movement by making regressive changes in the Industrial Law.

As it is, the Land Acquisition Act 2013 was the result of mass agitation by Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar and a great number of human rights activists. The UPA government had resisted it till the last until overwhelmed by massive public protests. Ironical that UPA constituents should now be boasting of being farmers supporters, though having resisted these changes like the Social Impact Assessment Provision which, I remember was incorporated as far back as 1990 by a resolution of United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (of which I was then a member) and which was soon after ratified by United Nations Organization - obviously BJP is inviting ridicule by purporting to act against the views of the UNO.

At present, under the Indian Trade Union Act 1926, any seven or more members of a trade can apply for registration as a Trade Union. The Central Government wants to raise the number to 100. The result obviously would be to deny right of Trade Unionism to overwhelming numbers of workers in small factories which, as it is, are the more exploited ones. This attack on labour is so blatantly partisan when it is compared with the Companies Act. 2013, where only seven persons can apply for forming a public company with a minimum paid up share capital of 5 lakhs (though its capital can be in millions) - this provision continues to be the same as it was under the 1956 Act, but for labour an extra unconscionable burden of having 100 members is being required. Is any more blatant proof of pro-corporate affinity required. Encouragingly, the Central Trade Unions have already given a call to nationwide protests against this anti-labour policy of Modi Government.  

A further anti-labour legislation being contemplated by the Central Government is to amend Section 25(O) of the Industrial Dispute Act, which requires permission of appropriate Government if employer wishes to close the Industrial enterprise. At present it is applicable to enterprises with 100 workmen (i.e., about 75 percent of total labour force). To weaken labour, it is sought to amend the law by applying it to undertakings employing 300 workmen - virtually throwing three fourth of workmen in the lairs of industrial tycoons.          

As it is, there is the international corporate pressure as is evident from the proceedings of International Labour Organization (ILO) where the corporate lobby is desperately making all efforts at providing that the right of workmen to strike should be banned. That such a move should even be debated is a matter of grave concern in our country. How can such a move have even been allowed to be discussed at ILO, a body meant to preserve and enhance workers’ rights and privileges all around. The right to strike by workers is a sacred and essential weapon in their hands and it has emerged as the inherent right of every worker and is of the very essence of the principle of collective bargaining. Modi Government, if it wishes to refute its softness to Big Business, must publicly announce that it will oppose at ILO any proposal to ban strike by workers.

There is patent falsehood in Modi government’s propaganda that changes in the Land Acquisition Act 2013 are required as an overwhelming number of government projects, which are expected to quicken the economic development for the benefit of masses, are stalled because of non-availability of land. This excuse is patently false. If details of 804 projects, that are said to have been stalled since February 2015, are examined closely, it will show that 78 percent belong to the Private Sector. More important, of 804 projects that are said to be stalled only eight percent are stalled due to Land Acquisition problems.

The government has ready land available but it will not touch it because of its proximity to Big Corporate Sector which got allotted land in Special Economic Zones, but at present 50 percent SEZ lands remain unutilised - under terms of allotment the government is entitled to take back this area without paying any amount to the corporate sector. Why does the government not exercise this power?

If, inspite of this, mass agitation against land Acquisition Act ordinances by kisans, industrial workers and concerned citizens, Modi government insists on pursuing its present course, one would be unable to find any rational explanation and will have to fall back on the only explanation as to what Shakespeare said: “Those whom Gods wish to destroy they first make them mad” which is attributed to the Greek philosopher Hippolytus in 428 B.C. - but then BJP would prefer a homely Sanskrit version namely, “Vinash kale vipreet buddhi”.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 June 2015 on page no. 1

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