Calling an all-Party meeting recently, MEA Minister S.Jaishankar rightly expressed official concern at the critical economic-financial situation of our southern neighbour Sri Lanka. It had caused large-scale protests. Jaishankar also allayed fears that a similar situation could arise in India. It is devoutly to be hoped that he is correct, in the interest of our People and our nation.
The vast majority of our 1.35-billion citizens across religious, regional and language divides, are in very difficult economic and financial circumstances. It would be wise for state and central governments to realistically and transparently assess our situation, and address the genuine concerns of our People.
The job-seeking 10-th pass youths are overwhelmingly from rural-agricultural communities, which constitute about 60% of our 1.35-billion people. They are from families classified as small farmers who own less than 2-hectares of land.
Other job-seekers are from towns and cities, hailing from worker, or “karmik”, families. These are associated with the organised or unorganised sectors, or are a part of the unorganised, migrant labour sector. They too are again mostly from a rural-agricultural, landless kisan background. The many millions of unemployed youth hail from kisan or karmik families, and seek jobs in the commercial or industrial sector, or preferably in state or central governments.
The recently-announced Agnipath scheme is for recruiting youth between 17.5 to 21 years of age for a below-officer-rank, four-year-service engagement in the Armed Forces. They will be ranked as “Agniveer”. Every Agniveer will invariably belong to a kisan or karmik family. On completing four-years of service, selected Agniveers (maximum 25%) will be offered retention as regular ‘Jawans’ in the Armed Forces. Those not selected will add to the age group of 21.5 to 25-year-old job-seekers, starting 2026-27.
A Jawan completing 15-years service, retires at age of 38-42 years. He understands that when he returns to his kisan or karmik home post-retirement, he will probably join the ranks of the unemployed, because securing a job is extremely difficult. Ex-Jawans have a difficult life, their pension and retirement benefits are inadequate for the financial needs of a growing family, typically with children aged between 6-10 years.
Very few from land-owner kisan families revert to their former life. Most ex-Jawans seek urban employment, in the interest of children’s education. Ex-Jawans who fortunately secure a state or central government Group ‘D’ job, are relatively better off.
Jawans remain linked with their kisan or karmik home community, and most ex-Jawans maintain regular contact with their serving comrades. Thus Jawans, serving and retired, comprise an organic whole.
Farm laws and Kisans
Government passed four Farm Laws as Ordinances in June 2020, as part of “agricultural reforms”. Farmers objected to these as being against their best interests, and demanded their repeal. However, the Government enacted the Farm Laws against opposition, making them effective September 27, 2020.
Farmers began an unprecedented peaceful agitation at the gates of Delhi and elsewhere in the country, starting November 26, 2020, with clearly stated demands. Among the agitating farmers were large numbers of ex-Jawans, who had returned to their kisan communities.
The agitating farmers braved winter, summer, monsoon rain and other hardships. Many died. Farmers and Government held several rounds of talks, with Government adamant that farmers withdraw the agitation, and farmers equally adamant that they would withdraw their peaceful agitation only after the Farm Laws were repealed and other demands satisfied.
After the Government agreed to form a Committee comprising members of the farmers’ groups and Government officials, to settle MSP and other core issues, the farmers withdrew the agitation 380-days later, on 11 December 2021.
Government notified the formation of a Committee. But now, seven months later, farmers claim that the Government has failed to respond to their questions sent on March 24, 2022. These were concerning the Committee’s Terms of Reference, names of Chairman and members from Government’s side, time for the Committee to submit its Report, and whether the recommendations would be binding on Government.
The farmers allege that the Committee’s agenda does not include their demand of legal guarantee of MSP to assure fair price for crops. Thus, the farmers reject this Committee and will not send names of their representatives on the Committee. It remains to be seen how this stand-off pans out, but it is clear that the Jawan-Kisan is deeply unhappy.
Labour Codes and Karmiks
On November 26, 2020, an estimated 250 million workers from different sectors belonging to 10 central trade unions and hundreds of workers associations, struck work in what may be the biggest nationwide strike. They were protesting against the “anti-worker” and pro-corporate policies and labour laws, as well as the new Farm Laws. Possibly for the first time in post-Independence India, this displayed the “kisan-karmik” bond.
Government introduced four new Labour Codes to amalgamate and refine 29 existing laws, and simplify and modernise labour regulation. There is undoubted benefit in simplifying working around multiple labour laws. This has been welcomed by the industrial lobby, but the new labour codes were drafted without consultation of workers organisations and unions. Unorganised sector workers remain out of focus.
Workers unions claim that the Labour Codes make it even more difficult for workers to unionise, strike, and demand wages, and worsens their already unequal capacity to bargain. They call these Labour Codes the “anti-labour codes of bondage”. The disaffection of karmiks with the Labour Codes is abundantly clear.
Our country’s economic downturn, magnified by the Government’s social-economic-political policies, and executive decisions, was intensified by the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine war. Today, the majority of 1.35-billion Indians live in very difficult conditions. Our youth – 40%, 540-million – see no viable future for themselves. NYP-2014 (National Youth Policy) for empowering youth, has failed them.
Unemployed kisan and karmik youth are growing in numbers, especially those who cannot pass Class 10 for whatever reason. There is growing public discontent and anger. As prices rise, kisan and karmik families are cutting back on food, and hunger is added to endemic hardship.
Jawan, kisan and karmik youths have come together with their real-life economic concerns. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s 1965 rousing call of “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”, expands to “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan Jai Karmik”, representing 70% of our population including the youth.
The government would do well to step back, and re-assess the economic and financial distress that people are undergoing. It has led to high levels of countrywide economic discontent, pain and suffering, with consequent unrest.
The Farm and Labour laws have aggravated their problems, instead of solving them. Using police-military force to suppress protests can only exacerbate the situation. Neglecting people’s unrest cannot be in the national interest, especially since China and Pakistan benefit from it.
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere, VSM, joined the Indian Army in 1961, was commissioned into the Corps of Engineers, and retired in 1996, from the post of Additional DG in charge of Discipline & Vigilance in Army Headquarters, New Delhi.