By: Arun Srivastava
Coronavirus has done at least one great service to the people of the country. It has enabled the poor to invent that they are unwanted creatures in the New India of Narendra Modi and in fact, it is the home for the rich and affluent people who nurse an utter contempt and hatred for them, where the proletariat cannot hope to survive and have his share of the benefits that a welfare state is supposed to offer them.
A common Indian nursed the feeling that he is a citizen of this country, India is his motherland and they are endowed with the rights like others. This is a country which is plural in character and has no inhibition for the poor. But the corona epidemic shattered this myth. They have been told by the rulers of the country that too in no uncertain words, that they are termites and this country is not their heavenly abode.
In Independent India, the fact remains, that poor were never accorded with social recognition and respect, but the treatment meted out to them by the Modi government in the wake of the epidemic, unravelled the truth that they were unwanted in this land. Their fights for asserting their rights and existence, their struggle against feudalism and exploitation by the landed gentry and supreme sacrifice of their lives for bringing inequality and honour were merely a façade. The democratic institution of this country has even denied them the basic right to be recognised as humans.
The successive governments claimed that the poor constitute a small proportion of the population. Modi who came to the power riding on the shoulders of the urban middle class claimed that this section constitutes 30 per cent of the Indian population. Systematically a hype was created and perception was strengthened that India was fast emerging as the wealthy and empowered state.
But the invasion of the coronavirus smashed this utopian perception and brought down the hype created by the politicians, bureaucrats and a section of the economists. For the first time, Corona exposed the truth that India continues to be a country of poor and the perception of empowered India was merely a bluff. The benefits of the flow of liquidity is yet to roll down to the people. Corona revealed that around 70 crore people are poor and have been surviving at the mercy of the rich and affluent. The dogged fight amongst the economist on the quantum of minimum wages and quality of livelihood exposed their intellectual bankruptcy when the migrant labourers fleeing the urban areas and cities after the lockdown was imposed in March 2020 did not have money even to buy some chapatis, a one-time meal.
It is now part of history that nearly 900 migrant labourers and daily wage earners died on the way to their due to hunger. This is the worst commentary on the so-called unbiased and democratic governance. According to Census 2011, officially there are nearly 50 crore labourers and daily wage earners in India. The economists had fled the country with the perception that this population is declining. But corona made it abundantly clear that this perception was purely a myth, based on wrong inputs which have been far from the truth.
In February this year, the rulers of the country announced at the top of their voice that the Modi government had defeated corona and hailed Prime Minister Modi for this achievement. In a resolution, the BJP had said: “…It can be said with pride that India not only defeated Covid under the table, sensitive, committed and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi…. The party unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against Covid.” Modi himself had told the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue on January 28 that “we not only solved our problems but also helped the world fight the pandemic”.
Barring minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, no BJP leader came out to counter Rahul Gandhi for slamming the Modi government for the Covid crisis. “Central Government’s Covid strategy: Stage 1 — Impose Tughlaqi lockdown. Stage 2 — Ghantibajao (Ring bells). Stage 3 — Prabhuke gun gao (Pray to God),” Rahul had tweeted.
Soon it was revealed that the Modi government had miserably failed to fight the epidemic after thousands of people started dying due to corona. The worst-hit as usual were the labourers. Those who had fled to their villages and native places started facing the worst ever threat from hunger. A general consensus gripped them that can brave corona but could not fight hunger. Even while the rich and middle class were hiding behind the closed doors of their cosy houses, the labourers had started returning to the cities in search of their livelihood.
It was in this backdrop when the second wave of the corona was ravaging the country and thousands of people were dying every day, dead bodies were floating like a lotus on the chest of sacred river Ganga, on May 25, the Supreme Court had directed the Modi government to come out with a national database for unorganised workers as in the absence of such folder they are unable to avail of government benefits, especially during the present Covid crisis.
The division bench said in order: “We also impress upon the central government and the state governments to complete the process of registration… at an early date so that unorganised workers are able to reap the benefit of different schemes of the Centre and the states, which without proper registration and identity card seems to be difficult to implement on the ground.”
It also said “Learned SG (solicitor-general Tushar Mehta) may file a detailed affidavit with regard to above and as observed by us and a National Database for unorganised workers undertaken by the central government under the ministry of labour and employment with collaboration and coordination of the states should be completed at an early date. We grant two weeks’ time to Union of India to file an affidavit with the above regard.”
But it failed to move the government. No initiative was taken by the Modi government to launch a nationwide drive to find out the actual number of migrant labourers. Neither the political system nor the bureaucracy was keen to undertake this task. This would not yield any benefit to politicians nor to the bureaucracy.
The apathy of the government forced the Supreme Court once again to remind the Modi government of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities. Exactly after a month, on June 27, the same bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah directed the Centre to set up a national database for unorganised and migrant workers. This time it provided it with the time frame till July 31 and also directed to ensure that they receive adequate food and rations. The court even pointed out that the Centre had failed to set up a National Database for Unorganised Workers (NDUW) despite directives as far back as August 21, 2018.
The Supreme Court termed as “unpardonable” the Centre’s “apathy and lackadaisical attitude” towards creating a national database for unorganised workers, the worst sufferers of the pandemic, and said the labour ministry was “not alive to the concerns of the migrant workers”. Little doubt this is more than a stricture on the functioning of the government and any sensitive ruler would have taken stringent action against the mandarin for ignoring the order of the court.
This not only exposes the contempt of the Modi government towards the poor, it also lays bare the hatred and averseness of the RSS and BJP towards the labourers who are primarily Dalits and tribals. They have been shedding the crocodile tears at the plights of the Dalits, but they did not take any initiative in reaching out to them when they needed the help most.
The Supreme Court has asked the Modi government to rope in the states, Union Territories, licence holders and contractors for accomplishing the task of completing the registration so that the benefits of the welfare schemes are available to migrant workers and unorganized labourers. But it is sure that will not comply with the directive of the apex court. They have many alibis. Carrying out the enumeration of the labourers is itself an arduous task and with an averse bureaucracy, controlled by the rightist upper-caste feudal oriented officers.
Any move to benefit the labourers would alienate the middle-class vote bank of the BJP. The programme Right to Food, which is the base of the programme to reach the food to the labourers was implemented by the Manmohan Singh government. The very BJP at that time had used to humiliate the UPA government and win over the middle-class support. If the Modi government ventures to go ahead with this programme it would be fraught with dangerous consequences. Already the Modi government is facing criticism from its middle-class supporters for implementing the UPA programme of NREGA. Initially, the Modi government had developed the strategy to go slow, but as it has no other face-saving mechanism it has to implement it but with a reduced allocation. Amidst this chimaera, it is significant to watch that labourers have come to nurse the feeling that the state would not take care of their welfare. (IPA Service)