NEW DELHI: At a time when public sentiment is gripped by the sheer plight of rain-ravaged Chennai, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi opened another front, vowing to fight out any attempt to “weaken the labour laws’’ by the government, just the way the dilution of the land bill was resisted by his party for the sake of the farmers.
It was ironic that the one who kept him company when he gave a clarion call for a struggle against the proposed labour law reform from the INTUC platform was Manmohan Singh, former PM, with whom he gad differences during UPA rule. An unshaven Rahul with pushed-up kurta sleeves, looking every bit the trade unionist, rained allegations against the proposed amendments to the labour laws—as “anti-workers’’—thundering about his party’s determination to be with ‘Bharat’s Kisan Mazdoor’. Singh watched poker-faced the unspooling of his 25-year-old agenda of wrenching the Indian economy from the grip of the Left-of-Centre policies of the Indira era and Soviet inspiration.
“Like we fought for the rights of farmers, we will fight for the cause of the workers and stand with them and would not retreat an inch. We will fight BJP, Modi and RSS,” he said, amid applause at the 31st Plenary Session of INTUC. Not since 1992, when P V Narasimha Rao had invited the trade union wing of the Congress, filled with powerful party satraps to smoothen the path of his finance minister Singh’s reform agenda, had a top Congress leader addressed them. INTUC never quite had the centrestage again, certainly not in the Sonia-Manmohan era.
On Saturday though, Singh played footsie with Rahul, courting the party’s trade union wing. The “dissatisfaction” of workers with the “anti-labour and unimaginative” economic policies of the NDA government, Singh said, “was obvious from the one day general strike observed on September 2.”
The government must be hiccuping over the fate of the GST Bill. Whether Singh was quietly advising his successor to avoid confrontation with the trade unions, was not apparent though. Rahul’s was. Often told his political stance is anti-corporate, the Congress Vee Pee claimed he had no disagreement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of turning India into a global manufacturing hub that competes with China; but the unanimity ends there. The disagreement, he added, began with the PM’s view of the Indian worker as a “dishonest, shirker and one who could be made to work only by wielding the stick”. This, he said, was becoming evident from the kind of labour laws in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Harayana. “Labour laws were being diluted, so that the workers come to his knees.’’
Coming to his own in the absence of mother Sonia, who is abroad for a health check-up, Rahul advised the Government has play ‘adjudicator’ between the industry and the workers, keeping a balance. Of course, if it fails, he will be ready with the protest flags.