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Across the globe, we are seeing a rise in authoritarian regimes. Vladimir Putin in Russia, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, R.T. Erdoğan in Turkey, Xi Jinping in China and Narendra Modi in India are glaring examples, yet there are more.

Democracy is being thwarted using various means, but let us discuss the conditions of labour, rights of trade unions and privatization which will have a serious impact on the future of youth.

The preamble of the constitution says India is a sovereign, socialist, secular republic, to secure justice, liberty, and equality for all citizens and promote fraternity to maintain the unity and integrity of the nation. When India took a loan from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank accepting their conditions in the form of a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), it shifted towards capitalist policies.

The liberalization, privatization, and globalization (LPG) policies have increased income inequality, and unemployment, and taken away the labour rights achieved over a long period of time.

India has got into a trap that is difficult to get out of, but possible. Let me recall the story of Dr Faustus, who was a scientist. One night, the devil approaches him with an offer. You need not work hard, I will help you in your experiments and inventions. I will be your slave for 5 years. After that, you have to be my slave. Faustus refuses, but the Devil asks him to test him. Being a scientist, Faustus thought he can outwit him. He first asked for fresh grapes when it was not the season, but the devil was able to bring a bunch of fresh and sweet grapes on a beautiful plate. Now Faustus thought of a tougher task. He said he wants to see the Pope in Rome. The devil carried him to Rome and Faustus was able to see the Pope. Now Faustus had to think of a tougher task. He asked to see Helen of Troy, who was dead.  Surprisingly, the devil created a river in which Helen of Troy appeared sitting on a beautiful throne on a golden boat, with two charming maids fanning her from the sides. Astonished Dr Faustus said, “Was this the face which launched a thousand ships, burnt the topless towers of Ileum, oh sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.” She kissed him, and Faustus agreed to the devil’s conditions. After 5 years, having spent all his time on frivolous things, he realised his mistake and tried to escape, but in vain.

Dr. Manmohan Singh believed the devils and called the World Bank and the IMF while promising his party colleagues that the economy will flourish and all problems will be solved in three years. Then came Yashwant Sinha, Chidambaram, Arun Jaitley and now, Nirmala Sitaraman. All trying to follow the same path that has already led to disaster. Unfortunately, they are not even trying to get out, as some countries have done. Instead, they are accepting more conditionalities for lesser benefits. See, where these conditionalities have led Sri Lanka?

Where is India today?

Education is commercialised, health is privatised, employment is neglected, corporate loot is legalised and poverty is criminalised today.

We have forgotten the constitution.  We are no more a welfare state. Niti Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant clearly said that we will create 5-6 global champions, we cannot take care of everyone!

As per the Oxfam report “Inequality kills” 4.6 cr people are pushed to extreme poverty, 84% of households saw a decline in their income in the last 2 years. We are seeing the longest slowdown in the economy since 1991.

During the pandemic, 230 million fell below the poverty line.  Now we are a country of mass poverty after 45 years.  189.2 million – 14% of the population are undernourished. 51.4% of women between 15 and 49 years are anaemic. 34.7% of children under 5 are stunted. Unemployment in rural areas is 14.34% and in urban areas, it is 14.71%. Indebtedness is increasing. 80% of MSMEs feel insecure. The number of business people committing suicide is more than that of farmers. On the other hand, Mukesh Ambani’s wealth has grown by 350%.  Adani’s wealth has grown by 750%. Ambani gets richer daily by 163 crores, while Adani by, 1002 crores!

This inequality affects the workers and the youth, and privatisation is going to increase it further.

The government is on a selling spree. 74 CPSUs are on sale including profit-making BPCL, CEL, BEML, among others.  Air India was sold for a song.  Tatas got loans at 4.5% whereas the poor have to pay 26% to fintech’s and microfinance institutions.

National Monetisation Pipeline to mobilise 6 lakh crores by leasing out 31 airports, 23 seaports, 26700 km highways, 400 railway stations, four heritage rail lines, 1400 km of rail lines, stadiums and dedicated freight corridors for a long time.

Can a tenant sell a house? Similarly, the government is here to govern for 5 years – not to sell everything! Where is the justice in this?

What is the role of a government? To take care of its citizens. In most countries, whether socialist or capitalist, education is free for its citizens. In most countries, health care is equal for all citizens. In most countries, employment is guaranteed, or unemployment allowance is provided.  In most countries public transport is cheap, electricity is cheap and water is free. In the hotels in the west, you can drink water straight from the taps. You don’t need bottles. In Israel, the government provides capital to start-ups. Many may not survive, but the entrepreneur does not lose anything. He/she can try again. The same is the case with China.

In every country, it is the government and the public sector that provides employment with the provident fund, gratuity, and pension along with a decent salary. The government is the model employer. In Cuba, the percentage of government jobs is 77%, in Russia 40%, in the UK 21.5%, in the US 13.3%, in China 28%, in Brazil 12.3%, and in Argentina 16.9%, but in India, it is just 3.8%.

It is evident that the government and the public sector in India have to provide more employment. There is huge scope for this, but in the last 8 years, the government is not recruiting adequately while contract jobs are increased without a job guarantee. And now there are talks of gig workers, which could be an end of permanent jobs. Today SC, ST, OBC, EWS among the forward caste, Ex-servicemen, physically challenged and in some cases women have reservations. A government or public sector job provides dignity, status in society, and loans, guaranteed and secured by our constitution. Today, this right is being taken away.

In the financial sector, two banks are going to be privatised in addition to IDBI. This will be a disaster. The majority of the poor, middle class which is the 90% will depend on moneylenders to whom you pay 26% or more whereas corporates will get cheap credit from the banks. No education loan, self-employment loan, MSME loan, housing loan, SHG loan will be available to you if there are no public sector banks. 98.5% of the Jan Dhan accounts were opened by PSBs.  Most of the Mudra loans and PM Svanidhi loans to street vendors are provided by them. Privatisation will affect 90% of the population, especially the youth.

Another example is the unique case of LIC. It is a giant. No other company provides 95% of its profit to policyholders as a bonus. 5% initial public offer is the beginning. It changes the character of LIC. It cannot continue to subsidise the poor. 48% of the policyholders are from the low-income groups with an annual income of less than Rs.2 lakhs, who do not have any social security. Where will they go?

Banks and LIC are just examples.

Forty-three Acts passed by the Parliament and State Legislative related to labour and trade unions are clubbed together into four codes which are taking away rights like eight-hour work, right to strike, right to social security etc. We got several labour rights only because of the struggles of the trade unions. That is being taken away.

What is the alternative?

There Is No Alternative, (TINA) IS A LIE.

Tax the rich a little more. We will get adequate income to reduce poverty. Provide good education and healthcare. In the World Economic Forum, the rich from the west were demanding more tax. Here wealth tax is abolished, and corporate tax is reduced. Ambani and me – both pay 30% of our income as tax, but are we really equal?

Withdraw the New Education Policy and provide free and good education to everyone.

The public sector and public services can reduce income inequality. Between 1969 and 1990 inequality came down due to the public sector banks providing small loans to agriculture, artisans, cottage industries, traders, small entrepreneurs etc. Now it is reversed. You have to go back.  We need more banks, more employees, more loans, and more small loans that will transform the country.

Let’s have hope. The farmers could stop the farm bills. We could stop the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill. We can provide the alternatives. More than 20 crore workers participated in the 2-day strike held recently. Workers and Trade Unions have to play a more important role. 93% of the unorganised workers have to be reached.

In his speech ‘I have a dream,’ Martin Luther King Junior said, ‘I have a dream of America. A dream that the children of black and the whites will play together.’ That dream came true.

Japan said, if you can’t do it, Japan cannot do it.  If Japan cannot do it, the whole world cannot do it to its children after Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Now they are strong.

Authoritarian dictators have always collapsed – recall the fate of Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin and many others who had tragic ends.

So let’s have hope. The youth will bring change; the workers will bring change. Let each one of us think of the future of our youth. Privatisation is not going to help them. Divisive policies are not going to help them. Upholding the Constitutional values and the welfare state will help them. Let’s unite for preserving this unity in diversity.

Thomas Franco is the former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation and a Steering Committee Member at the Global Labour University.

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