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Mainstream, VOL L, No 11, March 3, 2012

Labour Strike, Kudankulam, Gujarat


Sunday 4 March 2012, by SC


The last few days have been witness to several major developments capped by the February 28 general strike across the country the call for which came from all the central trade union organisations and independent federations. This strike, which incidentally brought into focus the trade unions’ all-in unity on specific demands of the common people and working class (although such unity had been forged earlier as well), evoked wide popular response in the urban areas in particular (notably in Kerala, Bihar, Rajasthan and the North-East). In West Bengal the ruling Trinamul Congress gave the call to resist the strike as it felt there was no need for such action at this juncture, and hence the success of the bandh there was limited (but thankfully there was no major breach of peace in the course of the day). The same picture was seen in other parts too. The strike in banks and insurance was near-total everywhere. All these were a barometer of the public mood at this point in time.

It is notweorthy that the demands of the strikers were fully in tune with the current sentiments of the working populace conditioned by the anti-people policies and programmes unveiled and implemented by the ruling coalition at the Centre. The basic demands were: (i) concrete measures to contain the galloping prices; (ii) concrete measures to link employment protection with the concession/incentive packages offered to the entrepreneurs; (iii) strict enforcement of all labour laws without exception or exemption, alongside stringent punitive measures for violation of labour laws; (iv) universal social security cover for unorganised sector workers without any restriction and creation of a National Security Fund with adequate resources in line with the recommendations of the NCEUS and Parlia-mentary Standing Committee on Labour; (v) termination of disinvestment in Central and State profit-making PSUs.

What needs to be underscored is that while there could be differences of opinion on whether these demands warranted a one-day countrywide strike, the response to the strike-call must be taken as an eye-opener by the authorities at the Centre and in the States. It shows that the working people are in deep distress due to the government’s economic policies resulting in incessant rise in prices and unless steps are taken forthwith to redress their grievances the situation can turn explosive in the days ahead. In that sense the strike did serve as a wake-up call.

PM Manmohan Singh’s unwarranted attack on those leading protests against the Kundakulam nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu as being funded from abroad was a cheap ploy to insult the masses waging a persistent struggle against the commis-sioning of the plant by highlighting the issue of safety, a legitimate concern due to what happened in Fukushima in Japan in the aftermath of the tsunami there last year. The PM could have engaged in an indepth discussion with agitators on that very issue of safety and allayed their apprehensions with substantive evidence (which were not furnished by former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam). But instead he resorted to the time-worn attempt to tarnish the movement by invoking the “foreign hand” theory. This goes to establish the fact that he had exhausted all arguments on the safety question. The move by the PM has naturally provoked the leaders of the agitation to take steps to sue him for the charge. Now the government has decided to furnish “evidence” and “proof” of the veracity of the charge. A 50-year-old German national alleged to have raised funds for protests against the Kundankulam plant has been arrested and substantialy deported. All this has heightened the hostility of the NGOs towards the government and the Russian ambassador has added fuel to the fire by his remarks that, like those of his US counterparts in the past, are being construed as a direct interference in the affairs of a sovereign state.

What is more important, the powers that be should realise that allusion to the “foreign hand” (especially in case of such movements as those in Kundankulam and Jaitapur in Maharashtra) does not convince the people at large since unlike the Swatantra Party in the past (that was supposed to have received large foreign funds from abroad but could not strike roots on the Indian soil bereft as it was of grassroot support) the indigenous anti-nuclear movements in this country enjoy over-whelming support of the people at the grassroots and thus cannot be discredited and wished away by such preposterous accusations.

Meanwhile secular democrats across the country are observing the tenth anniversary of the post-Godhra carnage in Gujarat that was a veritable blot on our credentials as a secular nation. The Narendra Modi dispensation has not displayed to this day an iota of remorse for the horrendous happenings in the State that took a toll of countless lives. On the contrary it is, alongwith the BJP leaders, using every possible means to denigrate the human rights activists doggedly fighting to ensure justice for the victims of the outrage.

As a matter of fact those who term the incidents in March 2002 as ‘riots’ are completely off-the-mark: what happened after the Godhra train-burning incident on February 27 ten years ago was a pre-planned, state-sponsored, systematic attempt to eliminate members of a particular community—Muslims—so that they are compelled to stay as second-class citizens in the land of Gandhi, Nehru, Subhas Bose. Unless the perpetrators of the gruesome crime are brought to book through the due process of law, the wounds inflicted on secularism cannot ever be healed. If the Hindutvavadis refuse to listen to that simple message, they have no right to reside in secular India.

That is precisely what the secular democrats are trying to convey in unequivocal terms on this anniversary and thus doing their utmost to reinforce our secularism which has doubtless suffered a grievous blow thereby damaging the fabric of our democracy. Even after ten years that damage remains unrepaired.

March 1 S.C.

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