Between 1 April and 7 December 2014, 6.4crorepersons demanded work under the rural job guarantee scheme (MGNREGA) across the country and 5.1crore of them were given some kind of work. There are two things to be noted in these numbers: one, that over 6crorepersonswere forced to seek temporary manual labour jobs for a few days, and two, that a staggering 1.3 crore were turned back.

Why are people seeking piecemeal, low-paying jobs in thesestaggering numbers? Because, over the past decade and a half, there has been hardly any increase in job opportunities. Government data shows that between 1999 and 2009, employment grew at just about 2% per year. Recent Census data shows that 20 percent of youth between 15 to 24 years of age were jobless in 2011 – that’s 4.7 crore persons. Overall, the unemployment rate among the working age population in the 15-59 years age group was a shocking 15%, rising to 18% among dalits and 19 percent among adivasis. In just two years, 2010 to 2012, 91 lakh women lost their jobs, according to NSSO reports. It is desperation that is driving people to seek some income from MGNREGA work, even though it gives an average of only about 40 days of work in a year, and wages are more often than not delayed.

NarendraModi capitalized on this dire situation, promising jobs to everybody during his year-long election campaign. Surveys showed that unemployment, along with price rise, were the top issues agitating the minds of the voters. Yet 6 months after he came to power, his government’s sole contribution to the terrifying job situation has been to worsen it by slashing funds for the MGNREGS. 

Media has reported that central government funds for social sectors will be cut by 25%. This has not been formally announced or discussed anywhere. It is a diktat from the finance ministry run by ArunJaitley, Modi’s right hand man, to the respective ministries and state governments.

That is the reason why 9 state governments (Tripura, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Telengana, Bihar, Karnataka) have either written to the central government or passed resolutions in their respective Assemblies asking for restoration of funds. There have been protests all over the country and at the Parliament in New Delhi at the slashing of MGNREGA funding. Tripura CM ManikSarkar led a dharna at Delhi, followed by a dharna by over 150 NGOs and other organisations. A ‘gram bandh’ (village strike) was observed in Bengal.

It is often asked that if MGNREGS is such a popular and important programme for the people then why would a government try to strangle it? Surely, they would realize that such an attack would dent their support.

That would indeed be the case if the government was sensitive to the welfare of the people and believed in being accountable to them. The Modi government has no such beliefs. Intoxicated with their win in the elections,they ignore the fact that only about 30% of the people voted for the BJP and its allies. And, they are committed to an ideology borrowed from the worst anti-people governments of the advanced capitalist world – the ideology of neo-liberalism. This ideology, whose current practitioners like Shinzo Abe prime minister of Japan, Tony Abbott prime minister of Australia, Stephen Harper prime minister of Canada and Barak Obama president of US, are all Modi’s friends, urges cutting down government spending and encouraging private sector take-over of socio-economic functions. This, according to the neo-liberal ideologues, will create wealth and jobs.

Unfortunately, history has proved that the policy of cutting government expenditure and allowing unbridled freedom to corporations only leads to jobless growth, increasing inequality, loss of economic sovereignty and ruin for the poorer people.

But, Modi has never cared for what happens to the people as long as the big industrialists shower praises on him and declare him the best thing that happened to India. In fact the Modi government is going around the world begging foreign businesses to come to India and take advantage of the cheap labour in making big profits for themselves. He promises that this would create jobs – but that is another mirage. Neither are the foreign corporates going to flock to India in such numbers as to create 10 million jobs as promised by Modi, nor can such jobs be reliable or stable. In fact, such a move will wipe out whatever domestic industry is surviving in India.

So, the cruel slashing of MGNREGS funds is just the beginning of a darker period of full scale exploitation of Indian labour, caught in the pincers of depressed wages because of rampant unemployment on the one hand and an absence of any state backed social security on the other. What the UPA government was dreaming about, Modi is implementing.