NEW DELHI: It was deemed a “fight between two unequals”. But Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya — still an “outsider” to Delhi’s power circles — has always had the last laugh in his tussles with the powerful Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
But the victories may not sustain his position in the Union Cabinet as, if rumours are to be believed, the Telangana politician is being replaced with someone who will help government in introducing labour reforms.
It was for the third time in the last two months that Dattatreya had his way when he reversed a cut in the interest rate on Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) on Friday. The decision to revert to 8.8 per cent interest rate, from 8.7 per cent decided by the Ministry of Finance (MoF), helped nearly 40 million organised sector employees to earn a higher interest on their EPF this year.
Dattatreya had taken up the matter with the PMO. That the PMO ruled in his favour despite strong opposition from MoF is still a surprise to many.
“He has done the unthinkable. Our Ministry has never had a Minister who had the guts to take up cudgels for labourers,” a Labour Ministry official told Express.
According to him, the Minister was upset with Jaitley for not keeping him in the loop. “The Minister had no clue about the EPF interest decision nor about the decision to tax the withdrawal. When we called him up to check, he was equally clueless,” said the official.
The official said that Dattatreya had knocked at the doors of the PMO many a time. “But there are occasions when he has even been denied a meeting with the PM,” said the official.
What has worked in his favour are his strong RSS roots. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labour organisation affiliated to RSS, is also backing him.
“The government decision to cut the EPF rate was quite anti-worker. That the Labour Minister stood to his ground despite strong pressure is a great thing. We all support him,” said a BMS leader.
All trade unions, which had held protests against the move, have called off their strikes.
“Bandaru belongs to the old school. I will not be surprised if he is not there after the proposed reshuffle,” said a BMS leader.
Dattatreya is already on the PMO’s black list over the Rohith Vemula controversy. “With the EPF controversy too under his name, he will need the whole-hearted support of RSS if he is to stay in the Ministry,” said a source.