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Karnataka Message: Do More for Workers and Strike the Right

Shubham Sharma |
Hindutva affects over a third of Karnataka, but those against it are not helpless even in the first-past-the-post electoral system.
Supporters during Congress party’s celebrations after their win in the Karnataka assembly elections.

Supporters during Congress party’s celebrations after their win in the Karnataka assembly elections. Image Courtesy: PTI

The Congress party’s handsome victory in Karnataka has brought relief to all secular citizens. The mandate against the Bharatiya Janata Party, which spearheaded naked corruption and communalism in the southern state, is clear. No attempt by the Modi-Shah-Yogi triad to divide the election on communitarian lines worked. Even the last-ditch effort to summon the Hindu god Bajrang Bali for help failed to deliver. Bajrang Bali, a pliant and forgiving deity in the Hindu pantheon, was apparently tired of his duplicitous worshippers in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-BJP and, instead of grace, delivered a mighty mace blow.

The elections have seen that the tilt towards Hindutva does not affect more than a third of the electorate. With the BJP keeping its almost 36% intact, we can safely say that the rest 64% belong to the “secular” bloc. It is only the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system and a divided opposition through which the BJP is ensconced in power.

The Congress now has tasks to do. First, an all-out attempt should be made to make good on the four welfarist promises: Gruha Lakshmi scheme, which promises Rs 2,000 to every woman head of the family; Annabhagya scheme promising 10 kg grain to every person in a Below Poverty Line household; Yuvanidhi, which promises Rs 3,000 for unemployed graduates and Rs 1,500 to unemployed diploma holders and Gruha Jyoti program, promising 200 units of free electricity to all households.

Apart from this, the government should give in to the demand of the Anganwadi workers to be classified as teachers. The Congress manifesto only promises a 50% subsidy to ASHA and Anganwadi workers for buying an electric scooter. Much more needs to be done since they are responsible for providing crucial services at the grassroots. Their current salary is just Rs 11,500, almost Rs 5,000 less than the state minimum wage. In January 2023, they went on an indefinite strike.

Recently the gig workers in Karnataka, who are generally bereft of any social security whatsoever, asked political parties to commit to creating a statute ensuring a social security framework for the workers. The Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT) has demanded a Gig Workers Welfare Act, which, among other things, must ensure their status as ‘workers’. Gig platform workers are called partners to avoid compliance with labour laws. Their terms of work are highly skewed, and their wages are entirely unregulated. Given that social security and other fundamental labour rights, such as a minimum wage, limits on working hours, etc., depend on the ‘employee’ status, the independent contractor status of gig workers excludes them from getting such benefits and legal protections.

The Congress manifesto promises to establish a Gig Worker’s Welfare Board with Rs 3,000 crore as “seed money for a revolving fund”. This is nothing concrete, given that the demand for gig workers in the Karnataka economy was estimated to grow by 79.1 lakh, according to an estimate last year. The businesses are girding up their loins for a massive expansion in rural areas. On the other hand, workers need something concrete to live by. And since Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had lunch with the gig workers and heard their woes, his party should heed their desperate needs. If left to the free working of a demand-driven market, the unprotected gig workers will have a precarious life, most of which would be spent serving the affluent.

The last and most important thing for the Congress is to instil hope and confidence within the 64% of the secular electorate, especially the minorities, Muslims and Christians. Since 2014, the spectre of Hindutva has haunted both communities in more ways than one. The Congress should proceed with banning the Bajrang Dal from Karnataka. The history of Hindutva tells us they are very bad at resisting. Take, for instance, Hindutva icon VD Savarkar, who started writing letters of forgiveness to the British imperialists within a month of incarceration. On 4 February 1948, the government of India banned the RSS. In the aftermath of the killing of Mahatma Gandhi, the public sentiment was on the side of the Jawaharlal Nehru government.

Within six months of the ban, RSS chief MS Golwalkar wrote a letter to Nehru pleading to lift it. He wrote, “During this period, the RSS having been disbanded, the intelligent youth are rapidly falling into the snares of Communism. With the alarming happenings in Burma, Indo-China, Java and other neighbouring states, we can envisage the nature of the menace. The one effective check of the RSS no longer exists. The Communists had always considered the RSS as their main obstacle…news of their progress is alarming.” The letter reveals the pusillanimity of the right wing. They always look for an ‘other’ to blame. In India, it has been the Communists and minorities.

After the formal ban, Golwalkar met Sardar Patel twice, but the result was negative. The RSS also tried to resist passively in December 1948, but wholesale detentions and lack of public support led him to call off the movement within a month. Today, the general opinion is with the secular bloc. That is why it should proceed with the ban on the Bajrang Dal, which is nothing but a nationwide band of hoodlums targeting minorities and couples. It will give a strong message to the forces of Hindutva that the Congress of the ideals of Nehru has returned. And with a vengeance.

The author is a research scholar. The views are personal.

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