The RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is India’s largest trade union. In its national conference resolution on the third anniversary of the Narendra Modi government, BMS has denounced the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog). It has also planned district-level demonstrations on June 22 and 23 asking for implementation of the Supreme Court’s October 2016 order on equal pay for temporary and permanent positions. Newly re-elected BMS president C.K. Saji Narayanan tells Ushinor Majumdar that the NITI Aayog should be reorganised to suit the needs of “real India”. Edited excerpts:
Why are you asking for the reorganisation of the NITI Aayog?
There is a fundamental defect with this institution because it hasn’t picked up the aspirations of the common man. Its policy documents on the website show that the social sector, including labourers, people below the poverty line, farmers and backward classes, as also the micro industries are totally neglected. It has not understood the real India. That’s why we decided to take a strong stand against the institution.
What is this “real India” that you want the government to look at?
Our economy is faced with five crucial crises that have to be addressed. First, the policymaking body should be concerned with half the population that is close to or below the poverty line. Second, our agricultural sector has gained worldwide notoriety for farmer suicides. Third and fourth, as the Economic Survey 2014 has pointed out, the manufacturing sector has collapsed in what is the biggest loss since 1950 and we have the largest deficit in foreign trade since independence. Fifth, despite attempts to generate employment, there is a dearth of jobs. The NITI Aayog has been unable to address these issues because it has based its efforts on a failed paradigm, capitalism—in fact, corporate capitalism, an extreme form that, it feels, is the default religion of the world.
Are you against capitalism?
At the 1920 session of the Indian National Congress in Nagpur, RSS founder Dr K.B. Hedgewar had moved a resolution against capitalism. If communism has failed, the global crisis of 2008 showed that capitalism too has failed. Now the entire world is looking for an alternative to the failed ideology.
Don’t you think jobs have been created under the Modi government?
Despite sincere steps to create jobs, more jobs have been lost than created. For example, the NITI Aayog believes FDI is the panacea for all the economic problems of the country. This has wiped out the small-scale and micro sectors from many places in India.
With big industry moving fast towards more automation, wouldn’t the smaller sectors have a greater role in creating jobs?
India needs labour-intensive technologies and policies. But everything is being imported, including the experts, most of whom were advisers to financial institutions in America. Those institutions have collapsed and, as they have no jobs in America, their experts have migrated to India and are advising the government. Our economy cannot afford it. Indian conditions have some unique features. During a conference in Geneva, global experts pointed out that India was the least affected by the 2008 crisis that spread everywhere from Wall Street and said they wanted to learn from India.
But wasn’t that mainly because of India’s low credit exposure?
That is a capitalist assessment. India was also untouched during the 1998 crisis in the Asian economy. The country has some inherent, protective assets, which these reforms are trying to destroy. This would bring in the fragile nature of capitalism into India.
Are we headed towards job generation in the small-scale and micro sector?
If you look at countries that have expanded rapidly—Japan and South Korea, once called ‘Asian Tigers’—there was government support to industry, besides selective infusion of foreign elements into their economy. When the experts advised Japan to import rice for bringing down its price, the government refused, protected the national economy and went on to become the most industrialised country. Our government must not treat India as a wayside inn where anybody can enter without permission. That’s how FDI ends up bulldozing the small and micro sector, undercutting the government’s efforts to generate jobs.
In your resolution, you say the NITI Aayog is “limping on the social sector side”. Why?
All its suggestions and proposals are against the common man. The government has also had to disown some of these—for example, on taxing agricultural income or its proposal to remove price control on medicines, while the prime minister says all medicines should be available to the common man at low prices. It also suggested several anti-labour proposals to amend labour laws and tried to erode the Supreme Court’s order on “equal pay for equal work”, but the labour ministry rejected its proposal. Moreover, maintaining this think-tank is an expensive exercise.
Your resolution says employers’ contribution to EPF should not be reduced…
The NITI Aayog works as the annexe of an employers’ forum. It is advising the government on behalf of certain lobbies.
This is a paradox in our policy-making mechanism. The labour ministry has a wide social security coverage, with around 14 benefits to workers, which the NITI Aayog wants gradually reduced. ESI and EPF are two of the largest social security schemes in the world that protect the organised sector. While workers have suggested that the employers’ contribution should be increased, the NITI Aayog suggests they should be exempted.
You have also raised concerns about subsidies to farmers, including fertiliser subsidy…
The corporate lobby brings justifications to their agenda. At the WTO, they have debated whether subsidies should be given at the stage of farming or at the stage of export. France said it should be at the stage of farming as the farmers’ movement has been very strong there. Until 1995, France did not agree to this. India is among the countries that have signed it, but the debate continues.
You say the NITI Aayog is “committed to a powerful corporate lobby”...
When the Modi government came to power, an employers’ organisation presented a memorandum. The NITI Aayog merely copy-pasted from this document. That is why we say it works as an annexe of the employers’ organisation. It is seriously advising the government, but on behalf of certain lobbies.
How was this different under the Planning Commission?
India experimented with the Russian-model socialism until 1990 in the name of the Planning Commission, and after that with capitalism—hence NITI Aayog.
The PM Mudra Bank Loan Yojana is said to be doing well…
No industry can survive only on loans. They need a congenial environment too. The government should actively look for markets. Look at how the Chinese have captured the Indian fireworks market over the past three years. We are also buying Ganapati idols made in China. They know our market better than we do.
You say the NITI Aayog wants women to work night shifts. Where exactly do they say this?
This is mentioned in their labour policy document. They want to import standards from Europe, where women can work at night without fear. Even in a metropolis like Bangalore, women are not safe at night and the IT industries are considering doing away with the night shift. Many Indian factories are in remote areas and the workers have to travel long distances to get to work. They must understand the Indian conditions before commenting.
You have also objected to NITI Aayog’s suggestion to end the tax exemption given to agricultural income.
Agriculture is not a profit-making sector. Many do it as a service and some because of their attachment to it. The same amount invested elsewhere would have yielded a higher profit, so the governments have not taxed it. Even taxing those with a higher income would force them to invest in other, more profitable sectors.
The Aayog’s action agenda document directs this tax reform at non-agricultural companies that illegally avail of this exemption. NITI Aayog has also disowned this stand as the personal view of its member Bibek Debroy.
That requires corporate taxation. Is such a sweeping statement expected from someone in such a high position?
BMS was part of the joint agitation against the coal sector reforms in 2015. What did that achieve?
The coal sector doesn’t face a crisis and many companies are making profits. It is one of the biggest employers in the organised sector, so all reforms should support it. But the NITI Aayog has now recommended that international forces must fix the coal price.
Do you see the BMS playing an oppositional role vis-a-vis the government?
We are only standing on the workers’ side. We judge the government on the basis of its approach towards workers. Narendra Modi is an inspiring personality, but his efforts are being neutralised by these people and by the defects in policy.