A furore has broken out over Prime Minister Modi’s recent comments on self-employment. In a recent interview, Modi outlined that vast swathes of self-employed citizens were left unaccounted for in the official job statistics. In particular, his remarks about considering pakoda-sellers earning Rs. 200 a day as employed received much flak. There are several legitimate concerns about PM’s outlook on employment not to mention the fact that a significant proportion of the people Modi describes as adequately self-employed may not earn enough.
It was however, astonishing and repugnant to see members of the opposition parties, including former Cabinet ministers callously deride this section of society. Mr. Chidambaram’s recent Twitter comments follow a habitual trend within the Congress top brass that repeatedly belittles hardworking citizens while simultaneously claiming to champion their cause. Such statements reek of elitism and are deeply offensive to thousands of Indians attempting to earn an honest living. From Mani Shankar Aiyer’s jibes against Modi’s humble background to Rahul Gandhi’s ill conceived rationalization of dynastic politics, the Congress party has repeatedly perpetuated an image of a holier than thou old boys’ club. They have become the very embodiment of the British aristocratic class we fought valiantly against in India’s Independence movement.
The bigger issue at play is the Congress party’s belief that they hold a monopoly over India’s parliamentary democracy, thereby festering within them a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. By repeatedly attacking those that were not a part of the freedom movement, the Congress has displayed its deep belief in entitlement to Indian power structures on the basis of the events leading upto 1947.
This is partially why the PM has made the the right noises in his recent speech in the Lok Sabha imploring the Congress party to recognize its arrogance and accept the mistakes of 1947 – the partition and Kashmir. Meanwhile, the Congress seems to have undergone an intellectual internalisation that has reduced its self-image to that of then outgoing British elite. The constant high handed claims of Congress being solely responsible for the country’s freedom hasn’t help society move ahead.
While there may be no denying that not many dream of selling pakode for a living, must we really stoop down to the levels of dismissing their hard work with contempt? Not to mention, he hails from a party that was the architect of a rural employment scheme that guaranteed Rs. 120 a day to unemployed rural workers for public works related labor. Extending his logic to NREGA, was Mr. Chidambaram questioning the beneficiaries of his own party’s landmark welfare schemes? Of course, he didn’t expect his comments to be dissected to such granularity, which makes them even more insidious and unforgivable.
Mr. Gandhi, for his part, only condemned statements from his party members when it became politically expedient. We invite him or Chidambaram to provide comprehensive solutions to the massive underemployment challenge India continues to face. As Rahul Gandhi maintains tight-lipped silence over these types of matters, it is worth noticing how senior Congress leaders have jumped directly into the pit to slander and throw mud on different professional communities. The pakoda sellers’ community is a rather small minority in India – a fact many Congressmen are blind towards, as they continue to argue for minorities to exclusively be constructed on the basis of religion.
Dignity for each profession is a foundational requirement for any country trying to establish itself as an egalitarian society. The Congress’ high handed attitude is diametrically opposite to this ideal and poses an obstruction in the progress of the country. There must be some moral accountability within the Congress that stops such an act from playing out again and disturbing the socio-economic fabric of India. Until then, we sincerely hope Congress doesn’t disrespect millions of hardworking Indians that continue to show more entrepreneurial zeal than its President has ever shown.
Abhishek Dalal & Rishabh Mundhra