Mani-Talk: Modi's Two Self-Goals In One Week

Published: October 21, 2014 23:34 IST
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(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)

When Narendra Modi steals other people's schemes and re-launches them as his own initiatives, this purloining of the heritage of others is but a reflection of the absence of anything in his heritage to proclaim as his own. But such larceny is as nothing compared to the havoc he wreaks when he begins to think for himself. Two examples of Modi's self- goals have struck this benighted nation in the week of 11-18 October.

The first was his Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (MPs' Model Village Programme). Pray, what business is it of MPs to establish model villages? Is that not the domain of the Panchayats? Launched on 11 October, the birth anniversary of Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan, it mocks everything that JP stood for in wishing to insulate Panchayats from higher echelons of government, including interfering MPs and MLAs. I know Modi has little knowledge of what went before him but, had he cared to ask, someone might have handed him JP's "Swaraj for the People", priced at one rupee and published in 1961 by the Akhil Bharat Sarva Seva Sangh, Rajghat, Varanasi.

He would have read JP's passionate plea for empowering Panchayats far more effectively than had been achieved by Jawaharlal Nehru on the basis of the 1957 Balvantray Mehta Study Group recommendations. Clarifying that he was "indebted" to many but "most of all to Gandhiji", JP stressed his view, the same as the Mahatma's, "that as you proceed from the bottom level of government to the top, each higher level should have less and less functions and powers." Instead, he bemoaned, we had created an "inverted pyramid" from which it was necessary that the "broad upper levels" be "sawed off (and) brought down to earth so that the pyramid of democracy becomes a real pyramid - narrow at the top and broad at the bottom". In such a system, he said, "the people at each level would have the full opportunity to manage all those affairs that might pertain to that level."

So, what is an MP doing setting up "model villages" at the Panchayat level? At the level of the village panchayat, who more needs the "full opportunity to manage all those affairs that pertain to that level" than the Panchayats themselves? Had Modi been a JP follower, he would have started a Panchayat Adarsh Gram Yojana, ensuring that at least 50 lakhs a year is made available to every village in every panchayat every year so that within 10, perhaps even five years, every one of our 7,00,000 villages is made an "adarsh gram". Launching such a scheme on JP's birthday would have then been highly appropriate.

But to go against the grain of JP's thinking in asking legislators to do the executive's job of facilitating model villages, and that too by leaving it to MPs to decide which three of the 600 plus village panchayats in each constituency he is going to choose, is such a gross violation of everything that JP stood for that it adds insult to injury - that too on his birthday of all days - and amounts to transgressing the most dearly cherished principles that JP stood for. This is what happens when lesser human beings try to steal the clothes of the truly greater ones.

I also pity the MPs. At three villages every year over a five-year period, they would be left explaining to 585 of their 600 panchayats why they were not chosen, and the privilege extended only to 15 others. And how will the MP choose the 15 "adarsh grams"? In all probability, as a reward for votes cast for the MP. This will ensure the MP's defeat at the next election in all the other infuriated panchayats. If, on the other hand, he chooses to please three villages that did not vote for him, the fury of those who supported him last time but, in turn, were not supported by him, will lead to a stern reckoning at the next elections. Thus, both from the Panchayats' point-of-view, and from the MPs', this is truly a lose-lose scheme.

As JP said, "Swaraj from Below" means not a "procedural reform" but bringing "swaraj to the people" by ensuring "a real devolution of power and not a make-belief. It is possible," he warned, "to construct the outward structures of Panchayati Raj and to give it no substance. That would be like a body without a soul, dead from the start, a still-born child". Modi has made a "still-born child" of Panchayati Raj, "dead from the start", by devolving powers and funds to MPs and not Panchayats for the building of model villages.

Worse, to this farcical inauguration in Vigyan Bhawan, he had invited thousands of panchayat representatives, but instead of listening to what they had to say (as Dr. Manmohan Singh and Soniaji had done on a previous occasion when we celebrated the 15th anniversary of Panchayati Raj under my chairmanship in 2008), Modi rudely left the meeting immediately after making his speech and Minister Nitin Gadkari promptly dissolved the proceedings, abandoning the panchayat participants who came to me to complain bitterly about the treatment they had received at the hands of the Modi dispensation.

Next, we have the draft labour legislation tabled in the last session and procedural reforms announced on 16 October. The intended labour reforms signal Modi's pay-back time to the giant corporates who funded his hugely expensive election campaign. They have so infuriated organized labor that even the BJP-affiliated Bharat Mazdoor Sangh has joined its comrades in the Trades Union movement to issue a joint statement on 15 September 2014 decrying the failure of the Central Government to "push through" amendments to the relevant laws "without any consultations with them".

The joint statement explains painstakingly how "liberalizing the provisions of the Factories Act will imperil safety at the workplace (and) push the majority of factories out of its coverage". Further, the amendments proposed will result in "the principal employer and the contractor  becoming unaccountable for service conditions of the workers in a large number of enterprises." Moreover, the amendments proposed for the Apprentices Act "will pave the way for the replacement of contract/casual/temporary workers, and even regular workers, by comparatively low-paid apprentices" And the end-game will be the empowerment of employers to "retrench/lay off workers at will (and) resort to mass-scale contractorisation".

Is this how Modi proposes to promote industrialisation - as growth without jobs and decent employment? To secure an answer to these and other connected questions, the country's entire Trades Union movement is calling National Protest Day on 5 December. Modi has stirred the hornets' nest - and the country will have to pay the price in widespread industrial unrest.

With regard to Modi's "Shrameva Jayate Karyakram", trade unionist Gurudas Dasgupta has accused the Government of catering to the corporates so that "they can play hell." The moves are "anti-worker and pro-corporates". The CPM, for its part, has both pointed out that the Universal Account Number for EPF, which Modi is touting as his achievement, is no more than the finalisation of a programme that has long been in the works, but added that the new norms for implementation of labour laws "will only worsen the situation and encourage further violations by employers."

Prof KR Shyam Sundar of the Xavier Labour Research Institute, Jamshedpur, adds that the new procedures violate ILO's Labour Inspection Convention no. 81 by "centralizing inspections" and "controlling inspection visits from above" and regulating "inspection timings". We are likely to be hauled up in an international forum for Modi's rush to embrace his arch supporters.  

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