BY ANINDYA BANERJEE
New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) May 20, a couple of days from now will witness the first major organised protest since March 24 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown for the first time, virtually bringing the economy to a suspension and keeping individuals inside their home to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. On Wednesday, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the RSS-backed trade union, has given a call of nationwide protest against recent labor law reforms, particularly against “Black ordinance of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat” – all BJP-ruled states. But with mass assembly still not being allowed and authorities going into a tizzy over the prospect of a large number of agitated protestors taking to the streets, the BMS seems to rethink its strategy.
Meanwhile, to complicate matters for the authorities, not just the Sangh-affiliate but now Confederation of Central Trade Unions (CONSENT), an umbrella body of Central Trade Unions like BMS, NFITU, NLO, INTUC etc too have jumped to it with a 3-phase formula starting with submitting memorandum to District Magistrates on May 20. This will take place in each and every district, claims the BMS.
Moreover, on May 20 itself, the BMS plans to assemble at cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bhopal, Ahmedabad and Lucknow to shout slogans and carry placards. However, the CONSENT is the view that instead “awareness programs” can be carried in state capitals in either green zones or orange zones. Meanwhile, the umbrella body is also exploring to legally challenge the change of labour laws.
However, the question that’s troubling the BMS is how can a mass protest and lockdown go hand in hand. It had made elaborate arrangements across North India to launch a scathing attack on state governments against “unilateral changes in labour laws in 11 states”, “freezing labor laws” in three BJP-ruled states, non-payment of wages of workers during lockdown among others.
One of the posters prepared by the BMS reads, “Participate enmasse, maintain social distance”, highlighting the contradiction between the two that’s been troubling them as well.
Speaking to IANS, Virjesh Upadhyay, the national General Secretary of the BMS, accepted the tricky situation they are facing. “You will appreciate the situation we find ourselves in. While planning a massive protest across India, we were sure that there won’t be any curb in assembly at least in the green and orange zone. But with the lockdown 4.0 kicking in, we are reviewing what and how much can be done.”
Asked on whether there will be any assembly or shouting slogans, Upadhyay said a review meeting will decide the contours of the nationwide protest that they hoped would force the state governments, particularly that of Gujarat, MP and UP to listen to its demands.
But seeing the prospect of thousands taking to streets to shout anti-government slogans looking increasingly bleak, the BMS has started to stress focus on the migrant crisis and the alleged failure of state governments to contain this through its different social media handles. Even one of the latest posters on the May 20 protest lists the migrant crisis on top, superseding its original objection of dilution of labor laws.
While the BMS refuses to accept that the protest will be on hold, it is mindful of the reality. “We also have to keep in mind the larger interest,” said Upadhyay. However, sources within BMS insist that the protest may not take place is as aggressive a manner as it planned but it will be “relentless” in questioning the state governments, particularly in those three states, through one way or another.
And what better way to embarrass them than targeting the state governments over its handling of the migrant crisis?
(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at Anindya.firstname.lastname@example.org)