AAP in Delhi, AAP in Punjab: An Appraisal from the Working-Class Perspective
The Aam Admi Party (AAP) has gained a major victory in recently conducted Punjab Assembly elections. The party has won 92 out of 117 assembly seats and it has defeated the incumbent Congress. The Shiromoni Akali Dal – an ally of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) – and the BJP itself were also routed to ground in the election result. Bhagwant Mann, a prominent Member of Parliament from AAP has been sworn in as the Chief Minister of Punjab.
The AAP has been sitting in the Government of National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi since 2015. Punjab is the second state after Delhi where the AAP has emerged victorious. While the AAP manifesto for Punjab election sheds some light on their declared intentions of running the Punjab state government, their more than 7 years’ rule in Delhi gives an overview of how an AAP led government is actually being governed.
Other than the obvious religious overtone, conspicuous omission in the AAP manifesto was the rights of farm and non-farm workers of Punjab. Punjab has the highest percentage of Dalits in the country, and most of the Dalit population are engaged as agricultural laborers and non-farm workers. Although a special section for Dalits has been allotted in the manifesto, no concrete promise of land reform or rights of the farm labourers are mentioned in the section. A significant section of workers population of Punjab also works in the non-farm sector including major industrial areas. Just like the rest of India, the informal workforce constitutes the majority in Punjab as well.
Thus, in today’s time, credibility of any political force that promises to change the present order of things, is primarily tested by its commitment to halt the blood sucking profit motive of the companies and ensure labour rights for the masses. Having said that, let us now have a critical look at the track record of AAP in fulfilling its promises to the working class of Delhi.
The Lockdown Disasters and the Workers
Delhi was the epicentre of a massive humanitarian crisis the country experienced during the lockdown. Thousands of workers working in the city were rendered jobless without any money or food as soon as the lockdown was announced. The massive flight of migrant workers was a tragedy that unfolded in full visibility before the entire country.
The lockdown brought forth the stark realities of job insecurity confronted by the informal labourers who toil to make the city functional. Millions of contractual workers were rendered jobless as soon as the lockdown was announced. The meagre wages that the contractual workers earn left them without any savings to bank upon. Although a Home Ministry notice ordered payment of two months of wages after the lockdown was announced, most of the employers refused to comply with the order.
The abysmal functioning of the Public Distribution System (PDS) in Delhi left millions of workers without any food. The food distribution scheme started by the Delhi government during lockdown was far away from meeting the needs of the people. Hundreds of migrant laborers and informal workers were seen desperately waiting on streets for the supply of food from civil society organizations. Such was the scale of hunger in the national capital of India. Only 37% of the population of Delhi had ration cards when the lockdown was announced.
In the name of providing temporary relief, an E-Coupon system was announced but it remained inaccessible to most of the working-class population due to the complicated requirements to avail the coupon. The Delhi government has not, since then, restarted the registration for issuance of new ration cards. Thus, a vast majority of the working-class population in the city still struggle for food given the massive increase in unemployment post-lockdown and non-availability of documents.
Betrayal of Contractual Workers, Non-Compliance of Labour Laws, and Factory Deaths
The electoral victory of the AAP in Delhi was mainly because of aspirations of the contractual workers to get regularized in their jobs. Regularization of contractual workers was an important electoral promise of the AAP in Delhi. Yet, millions of contractual workers including those working in government institutions, are still waiting to get regularized. The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) Workers’ Unity Centre, affiliated to AICCTU, has time and again demanded regularization of the contractual workers working in DTC. But the Delhi government has conveniently ignored its promise in the last seven years of its rule in Delhi.
Even the mandatory equal pay for equal work norm, whereby contractual workers working in an institution are supposed to be paid the same wage as permanent workers, mandated by Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, remain unimplemented in all workplaces in Delhi.
Deaths of workers in factory fires have become regular incidents in Delhi. These incidents have continued unabated, killing dozens to hundreds of workers every year in areas like Bawana, Narela, Sultanpuri and Anaj Mandi. Despite such repeat of incidents every year, the factories are being allowed to operate without adherence to any safety measures. In most of the cases, the factories that engage in hazardous work, have single entry/exit and congested areas inside their premises. In one such incident that happened in 2019 in a factory near Anaj Mandi that killed around 50 workers and injured several others, the workers were sleeping inside the building that was being used as a luggage bag factory. Despite several interventions by trade unions, the Department of Labour under the Delhi state Government continues to allow factories to violate The Factories Act, Minimum Wages Act, Trade Union Act, and other applicable labour laws, by turning a blind eye.
Violation of Rights of Scheme Workers, Construction Workers and Domestic Workers
Thousands of scheme workers of Delhi continue to be denied their basic rights. The ASHA workers who worked as the real front-line workers to contain the pandemic were left to face the pandemic without any safety equipment being provided. They worked with a meagre honorarium of Rs. 3000/- and a pandemic allowance of Rs. 1000/-. These workers had to be on 24x7 duty calls as the pandemic struck Delhi. Even when the ASHA workers died due to corona by contracting the virus while on duty, their families have been denied compensations. In one such incident, the family of AICCTU member Nurma Naaz, an ASHA worker, continues to be denied the Rs 1 crore compensation.
The Anganwadi workers of Delhi similarly face denial of their basic rights. The Anganwadi workers of Delhi are paid a meagre Rs. 9600/- per month and the helpers around Rs. 4500/- per month. The Anganwadi workers and helpers are among the front-line workers who worked throughout the corona waves. Yet, their basic rights are being denied. These workers protested for more than two months at Vikas Bhawan in Delhi demanding an increase in pay to Rs. 25,000/- per month for Anganwadi workers and Rs 20,000/- for helpers. They are demanding to be recognized as workers with all benefits such as pension and social securities. The Delhi government, rather than listening to the demands of women workers, has chosen to let loose a heavy crackdown on them.
Thousands of women Anganwadi workers have been on the streets since January this year demanding their rights. The Delhi Government has invoked the draconian ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) to clamp down on the protesters. More than 900 workers have been terminated till now. A government that does not recognize the Anganwadi workers as workers, enforces Essential Services Maintenance Act when they speak out for their rights. This is not the first instance that the AAP led Delhi government has invoked the draconian law like ESMA. Earlier when DTC workers went on strike demanding regularization, the government acted in the same way.
Thousands of domestic workers in the city work in vulnerable, unsecured, and undignified conditions as there is absolutely no recognition of their existence as workers. These workers face regular harassment, gender violence and humiliation from their employers. In several instances, the workers are kept as bonded labour inside the households. They are unable to claim even the minimum wages. The Delhi government has not bothered to enact any policy for the rights and welfare of these workers.
Construction workers form a major part of the working population in Delhi who faced the hardest blow of the lockdown due to complete stoppage of construction activities for several months. The government announced a one-time payment of Rs. 5000 as compensation, which remained inaccessible to thousands of workers due to lack of registration with the welfare board. Other than the lockdown disaster, the construction workers are always at the receiving end due to random and arbitrary stoppage of construction activity in Delhi whenever the pollution level reaches its peak. But such orders of stoppage of construction work doesn’t come with a promise of assistance from the government. Pollution in a city like Delhi is worsening mainly because of emission from private cars. But loss of livelihood is being faced by poor construction workers who have nothing to contribute to the city’s pollution.
Other than the above-mentioned violation of workers’ rights in Delhi, the poor and informal workers live under constant threat of demolition of their houses as the Delhi government failed to fulfil its promise of Jahan Jhuggi Waha Makan (House near slum). The promised subsidy of water and electricity doesn’t reach the workers staying on rent or living in slum areas. The AAP led Delhi government that overspends on its propaganda of welfare measures, is conveniently hiding the inaccessibility of city’s workers to the basic minimum government subsidies.
While the nature of AAP’s rule in Punjab is yet to unfold, their massive betrayal to the poor and the workers of Delhi is not hidden from anyone anymore.