Like Modi’s fraudulent development measures the purported vision of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), a â€˜Vibrant city having a responsive local government offering its citizens a good quality of lifeâ€™ remains a farce. Boasting of improving the habitat of the urban poor and providing livelihood opportunities is one thing, achieving it another. How ironical that AMCâ€™s own 5000 Dalit sweepers (Safai kamdars) finding their lives and livelihoods getting immaterial and cheaper by the day have revolted. These contractual workers went on an indefinite strike on 31 December 2013. After 22 long days of no pay and a militant strike, AMC had to finally relent and accept the demands of the workers.
The skeletons in Modiâ€™s closet are coming tumbling out. Workers in Gujarat are asserting their rights for full wages and permanent employment and benefits that they have been deprived of for decades.
On one hand Modi’s government awash in corruption and kowtowing to a small group of obscenely rich corporate oligarchs, has spelled a development for Gujarat that caters exclusively to the profits and business expansion of the rich. The betterment in the lives of the poor and marginalized remains a faÃ§ade. Scratch the surface and the false vibrancy reveals a dark reality of the workers suffering under highly exploitative wage structure and abysmal working conditions.
The state of the dalit safai kamdars and their revolt is a stark example of what Samir Amin calls the “democratic fraudâ€. An apt term for Modi ruled Gujarat where corporates centric development thrives on a dual system of exploitation of labor (in various forms) and of concentration of the state’s powers and resources with the ruling class2 and also ensures the reproduction of the system.
For the past 25 years these poorest and most neglected sections in Ahmedabad are living on wages that have been static, lower than the stipulated minimum wage and no benefits like leaves or provident fund. There is a huge gulf in the salaries of the permanent workers and the contractual workers. The latter are paid a meager Rs. 85-100 per day with no legality of payment in terms of pay slips. Despite working in hazardous environment, cleaning the worst dirt and muck of the city and prone to health problems they are denied medical allowances. Disregarding their legitimate demands the government meanwhile came down heavily with police intimidation of the protesters and arrest of workersâ€™ leaders.
Over the last decades, prominent anti-worker unions the â€˜Mazdoor Mahajanâ€™, originally established by M. K. Gandhi after the Bombay textile strike in the 1920s with many unions across Gujarat, and the â€˜Mill Mazdoor Sabhaâ€™, affiliated to the Hind Mazdoor Sabha have failed to address the cause of the workers. The workers are fed up of these Unionsâ€™ corrupt practices that they see acting as â€œbrokers of the managementâ€. The unions formed by the ruling class empires offer no prospect of success or satisfaction among the working masses and remain confined to their traditional divisiveness of caste and communal interests and prejudices. Consequently the desire for revolutionary rational social change has been gathering fresh momentum and support in the working class and the most marginal sector, dalits and adivasis.
More than a year ago 7 November 2012 a day of social and political reckoning in Gujarat saw around ten thousand workers and artisans from eleven states come together for the Democratic Peoplesâ€™ Forum rally under the leadership of Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha and Gujarat Federation of Trade Unions affiliated with Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM).
It was the biggest mass workersâ€™ agitation in Gujaratâ€™s history in the heart of Ahmedabad over 1 kilometer from Shahpur darwaza through Dilli darwaza and Mirzapur to Khanpur. A veritable red sea, bursting with energy, they expressed their collective anger and defiance to the drumbeats of the Modiâ€™s development model. â€œKick-out BJPâ€; â€œJoin for a new Alternativeâ€; â€œModi has sold off Gujarat to Five Rich Men, Tata Birla Maruti Ambani and Adaniâ€, were the fearless refrains right opposite the State BJP office.
The extreme labor repressive measures have made Gujarat the epicenter of this growing revolutionary consciousness of workers – the struggle of the auto rickshaw workers, the GISF jawans, the transport workers and now the AMC sweepers. True democracy lies in solidarity with these grassroots movements that JSM has been relentlessly emphasizing.
In February 2013 Mr. Narendra Modiâ€™s government as part of their communal polarizing and vote banks politics and creation of a fraudulent group solidarity for Hindu Rashtra
showed super enthusiasm in engineering and endorsing the â€˜hinduizationâ€™ of Dalit sweepers. They claimed that training them in karma-kand (Brahamanical religious rituals) to solemnize Hindu weddings will counter untouchability. The people were fed a load of crap when they claimed that this â€˜sweeping social reformâ€™ will ensure reasonable employment for the Dalits. Gujarat’s social justice department even proposed a new provision in the budget of Rupees 22.50 lakh for this programme in the budget for 2013-142.
Today just ten months later the superficiality stands exposed as his government has not just chosen to remain blind to the oppressive working conditions of the Dalit sweepers, but even come down heavily with police action against them refusing to make any real change towards their social and economic upliftment.
As the speed of the atrocities on the workers increase and they are deprived of the conditions necessary for life itself, their complete disillusionment and anger against Narendra Modi and his â€˜vibrant Gujarat development modelâ€™, is becoming more and more evident, from their own experiences. One of the workers during the DPF rally remarked â€œWith the money we produce, they are expanding their businesses, giving their children expensive cars and foreign education, even foreign picnic trips, buying cricket teams, indulging in parties and festivities, but they donâ€™t want to give even a few thousands to us so we can have a basic living standard and provide education to our children.â€