It is a strange coincidence that the issue of migrant labour should provoke a referendum in one part of the globe and create concerns quite to the contrary in another part, the small southern Indian state of Kerala. Britain decided its future relationship with the European Union (EU) based on the anger of its people against the job-takers or the people from East European countries. Around the same time, Kerala was debating the question of how migrant labour should be brought into the social security net so as to ensure that their status was on par with local citizens.
Seriously speaking, the two cannot be strictly compared. There are a lot more complex issues involved for the citizens of the United Kingdom to vote the way they did. For them, perhaps, migrant labour was perceived more as a liability on the state and a threat to the local economy. The story of Kerala, however, is different.
It is one of the few states in India whose people have been working across the world, particularly in the Middle East and Gulf countries, in various professions, skilled or unskilled, for several decades. Their contribution to the countries where they work is, sort of, reflected by the amount of money they send back home. Such repatriations contribute significantly to the state’s gross domestic product and the foreign reserves of India. Their remittances contribute around R750bn (RO4.25bn approx) annually. In other words, these remittances account for an estimated 36 per cent of the state’s gross domestic product.
The interesting aspect about Kerala is that while the state’s citizen’s are busy providing manpower to different parts of the world, migrant labour from the rest of the country is providing manpower to the state. Professor
Irudaya Rajan of the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, prefers to call them ‘replacement migrant labour’.
Over the past decade, India has seen this phenomenon of labour movement from the northern and eastern parts of the country to southern India. By more standards than one, it is well established that the southern and western states are far more developed than their counterparts in the north and the east. People have moved for the sheer want of employment in their places of origin. It is no longer uncommon to see a young man from the northeast, which is predominantly meat eating, waiting on tables in ‘pure vegetarian’ restaurant.
It has also resulted in an interesting division of labour. Like the people from the eastern state of Bihar or western state of Rajasthan have been found to be doing carpentry work in the huge multi-storeyed complexes that go in the name of IT parks or other large format real estate. The plumbers come from Odisha, which also churns out excellent cooks as does West Bengal. Such is their presence that when mischievous elements had spread a fake message that led to the first-ever exodus in the country of young people from the northeastern states some years ago, several units in the hospitality sector and other service sectors had simply shut down.
It is now well established that the manpower in the developed states in the country has to come from the under-developed parts. Clearly, local talent or labour is not enough to meet the needs of economic activity.
Such migration, which got a tremendous boost because of the proliferation of mobile phones in the last decade or so, has led to Bengali or Bhojpuri movies being shown in a state like Kerala where communicating in any language other than Malayalam is a near impossibility. It has also led to certain acts of crime and the consequent targeting of the northeastern people, largely due to their distinctive features. A daily wage earner from a northeastern state was arrested recently for the most gruesome rape cum murder of a young law student.
The way Kerala has begun to look at the needs of the migrant labour is, indeed, interesting. The initial proposal to get every migrant registered with the local administration would have been thrashed in a court of law on grounds of discrimination in a country where freedom of movement is guaranteed by the constitution.
But, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s emphasis is on welfare rather than indulging in blatant profiling of people from a different part of the country. With an estimated 4mn migrants in the state, the question that is arising is how a social security scheme can be implemented when the daily wage earner moves from one job to another or one state to another.
Technology could provide an answer to implement a well-intentioned move. If it does succeed, it will be a trail blazer for the rest of the states. Who knows, the EU may also think of looking at it!
Modi certifies Rajan’s patriotism
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally spoken. The exit of Reserve Bank governor Raghuram Rajan had raised eyebrows across the globe. From investors to bankers to political heads and academics, there was all round curiosity on the reaction of the government of the day and Prime Minister Modi in particular.
The message that has come from the Prime Minister is directed at ‘those’ who have, in his words, made ‘unjust’ remarks against Rajan and called into question Rajan’s patriotism.
Modi said that Rajan is no less patriotic than anybody else and that he really appreciates the latter’s work. His comments come in the wake of the characteristically insulting attack that the ruling party’s Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy had launched against Rajan. The RBI Governor, possibly, waited long enough to realise that his expertise was not required by the government before announcing that he would not be seeking a second term in office. Thus, Rajan became the first governor of the central bank in 24 years to end his tenure in three years unlike his predecessors who enjoyed a five year term. Rajan’s term helped India shore up foreign reserves and reduce inflation by half and maintain it around five per cent.
Once Rajan threw in the towel, the irrepressible Swamy seemed to have received a booster dose. He promptly trained his guns on the chief economic advisor to the federal government, Arvind Subramanian. It is purely incidental that he is also a highly respected economist like his good friend Rajan. Swamy accused Arvind of having opposed India on the intellectual property rights issue in the US. Evidence, however, shows that somebody had led Swamy up the wrong path. Arvind’s comments were never anti-Indian to say the least. But, Swamy being what he is, he went about opening another front. This time it was Shaktikanta Das, a respected civil servant in the Finance Ministry.
That’s when it became clear that Swamy was attacking the Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, whose defence of officials made little impact. He made it worse still by saying that ministers, when they go abroad, should not be wearing ties and suits as they look like ‘waiters’. The jibe should not have, indeed, shocked many because this is a characteristic style of Swamy - to hit his targets below the belt. The disruptor that he has been all these years left even those who know him well bewildered. For effect, he added that those who tried to discipline him would see ‘bloodbath’. Clearly Swamy was doing everything to worry the powers that be. And, the interesting aspect is that none knew how to deal with him.
Even the second most powerful man after Modi in the country, Amit Shah, who is president of the BJP, has had nothing to say other than insist that Swamy’s views were not that of the party. Nevertheless, those in power did not do anything to curb Swamy.
The Prime Minister, too, very strangely remained silent even when Swamy was breaking all norms in insulting globally recognised economists. But, the fact is that the decision of Rajan not to seek a second term and return to academics at the University of Chicago, received a tremendous amount of negative publicity, globally. It is his role as the central bank governor that gave an extra element of confidence to global investors.
It is obvious that the Prime Minister’s statements now appreciating Rajan’s work come in this context. But, they appear to have come rather too late in the day, so to speak, after the horse has bolted from the stable. If only his intervention had come soon after Swamy launched his campaign against Rajan, the situation could have been different. In other words, it can be safely concluded that there was a clear cut strategy to ensure that Rajan was eased out of office so as to get a pliable central bank governor. So, the intervention by the Prime Minister is like saying ‘sorry’ when it is not meant to be one at all.
Peoples’ reaction to some things can be a reflection of the huge expectations they have. It was evident when the federal Minister for Urban Development, Venkaiah Naidu, took an early morning ride in Bengaluru’s Metro. Unannounced, he just jumped on to the Metro and sought the opinion of the people on what they thought of the service provided by the Metro, a joint venture between the federal and the Karnataka governments. He later tweeted to say he had spoken to a lot of commuters who had said ‘everything is okay’ with the service. The Bengaluru Metro’s first phase has, in just a few weeks, become a big hit with ridership rising to 150,000 a day.
The Minister’s intention cannot be questioned. But, the flak he got on social media was rather surprising. Citizens complained to him about the fare being high, the slow pace of work on the first phase and that two phases should have been completed by now etc etc. One of the tweets said, ‘Everything is OK! You spoke to the wrong people. Metro is behind schedule. How can the remaining phases be completed faster?’ Everybody knows that the Metro should have gone beyond its current phase of development.
Anybody in Naidu’s place would be thoroughly confused. He would be left wondering if it was a mistake to have gone to the people. But, Naidu is a wise man. He is smart enough to also understand from these tweets that people are in a great hurry to get what they want. May be faster than their child takes to lay the tracks and run a toy train!
[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]