GUWAHATI: Popular resistance against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is gaining momentum as millions of workers have joined the opposition to the Indian government’s “anti-people” policies.
Banks and markets were shut down in several parts of the country on Wednesday, as 10 leading trade unions went on strike.
“The attitude of the government is that of contempt towards labor, as we construe from its policies and actions,” the unions said a joint statement.
Angry with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, people have been taking to the streets since December, when a new citizenship law was passed. Large-scale demonstrations have been held across the country against the law that protesters refer to as “discriminatory.”
While trade unions are demanding “better wages, rollback of some of the policies that are adversely affecting the lives and livelihood of the workers,” student groups also participated in the rallies.
In the northeastern state of Assam, different student organizations joined the labor platform to protest against the government.
For almost a month, different Assam campuses have been calling for the new citizenship law — the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) — to be repealed as it poses a threat to their ethnic identity. The Assamese feel that under the CAA, immigrants in the state would become citizens, although they have not met the criteria of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which Assam released in August last year.
Some 1.9 million people in the state, mostly Hindus, were not on the NRC list, but the CAA will now accommodate them. The Assamese feel the move is a betrayal by the BJP government.
Under the CAA, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are eligible to become citizens, if they came to India before Dec. 31, 2014. Muslims are not included.
“We will continue the agitation till the government withdraws CAA,” Samujjal Bhattacharya, secretary-general of All Assam Students Union, told Arab News.
Wednesday’s labor strikes were also supported by students in the eastern Indian state of Bengal. In New Delhi, the protests were mild, but most of the government-owned banks were closed. Their employees were barred from participating in the rallies.
A BJP youth leader from New Delhi, Pappu Nirala, said that trade unions belong to the past and “don’t understand the dynamics of the changing world. Most of their demands are archaic.”
Meanwhile, the opposition Congress Party extended support to the protesting trade unions. Its leader, Rahul Gandhi, said on Twitter that Modi government’s “anti-people, anti-labor policies have created catastrophic unemployment and are weakening the PSUs (public sector units).”
Political analyst Pawan Pratay told Arab News that “the continuous protests in different parts of the country show that the BJP is gradually losing the political narrative and people are getting disenchanted,” especially economically, as people are becoming insecure about their future.
The union strikes, Pratay said, reflect “frustration with the government’s economic policies.”
Pratay added: “If the government fails to arrest the economic slide there would be further resistance. Failure on the economic front will be disastrous for the Modi regime.”