Designated as Save India Day, on August 9 (today), 11 central trade unions and numerous independent federations of employees along with a joint platform of over 300 farmers’ and agricultural workers organisations have called for a jail bharo satyagraha (fill the jails movement) demanding: transfer Rs. 7,500 to the bank accounts of all non-income tax paying families for six months, provide financial aid to farmers, expand work under MGNREGA to 200 days in a year @Rs. 600 per day, start similar scheme in urban areas, provide financial support to MSMEs, stop retrenchments and closures, ensure payment of lockdown wages and reinstatement of workers thrown out during lockdown, provide all families with subsidised food grain and other food items, among others.
Besides these immediate economic relief demands, the protesters are also demanding that all policies that seek to privatise natural resources, agricultural trade and public sector enterprises should be stopped since they will create more inequality and distress. They are also demanding that nullification of labour laws and raising of working day to 12 hours, be withdrawn.
ECONOMIC PROTECTION HELPS FIGHT PANDEMIC
Today’s protest is not the first one, though it is the biggest spanning all sections of working people. It was preceded by a series of protests and strikes that started back in April during the height of the lockdown itself. Throughout, the demand for economic protection has been raised as an essential prerequisite to fighting back the pandemic. If people don’t have incomes, nor savings, then they cannot observe distancing norms, they will be forced to go out and earn something just to survive. In advanced countries, that is why hefty unemployment allowances were being given for the past several months, so that people can live without having to take the risk of getting infected.
But in India, the Modi government didn’t do anything for two months, then adopted a stance of treating the pandemic as a law and order problem, to be dealt with by just forcing people to remain indoors. It never paid any heed to the exploding economic crisis that the people faced as starvation and misery engulfed the working people. It suffered from the delusion that individual resolve and discipline was all that was needed to defeat the pandemic, as we saw the Prime Minister repeatedly urging in his addresses to the country. It refused to spend any significant amount of money from its own treasury, relying instead on loans from banks to industrial units and corporate houses as a way out. Neither did this help revive the economy nor did the novel coronavirus get defeated.
It is 191 days (six months and some days) since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in India. In this long agonising period, confirmed cases have risen to over 20 lakh and deaths to over 42,000. Far from getting it under control, cases are surging at over 60,000 new ones per day, and there doesn’t appear to be any respite. A heartless lockdown that lasted two months has not helped, though it destroyed the economy and rendered crores of people jobless. So now, under this government’s “muscular” leadership India has ended up with one of the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world and also a shattered economy, high unemployment, falling incomes and all round decline in economic activity.