5 min read.Updated: 31 May 2013, 12:17 AM ISTAnuja
Social activist says opted out of NAC because she wants to move to working on issues close to the poor
New Delhi: Social activist Aruna Roy has opted out of Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), which sets the social agenda of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, because she wants to move from an advisory role to working on issues close to the poor.
In an interview, Roy spoke about her exit, the role of NAC, and her criticism of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for spurning a national-level minimum wage for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Edited excerpts:
Why are you leaving NAC?
I am leaving because I want to shift from an advisory role to full public action, where I will be involved in the cutting edge. This is at the implementation level and (I want to) spend a lot of time outside huge metropolises and go to rural areas with all the campaigns to look at what we should be taking up and negotiating with the government. For that, I need to concentrate and I need to look at what has been my basic constituency.
At the NAC, you have to look at all the issues that come up and you have to ethically spend some time with each one of those issues, some of which you may not be primarily concerned with. Since my constituency is with the poor and that is largely neglected in government policies in terms of real benefits for the last three years, I think it is time that I spent more time with them and reformulate the ways in which we would negotiate and also protest and struggle to tell our point of view to the government.
Why have you sought to target the Prime Minister in your letter for not accepting NAC’s recommendations on minimum wages under MGNREGS?
In the case of the minimum wages alone, I have mentioned the Prime Minister’s Office because the decision was taken there, that’s all. If one generalizes from there and extrapolates, then it is incorrect. No one should extrapolate from there because it is typically on the issue of minimum wages. And on the issue of minimum wages, stalling has come from the PMO.
In some ways, your exit is being seen as a thumbs-down for the UPA because you were considered as an ideologue for them…
I never was a part of the UPA; I was never a part of any political structure. I was always a critic and I think I was a discomfort to the government in power because I spoke so much against them continually on various issues. I have continued to speak—whether it was Kudankulam or Posco, coming down on non-governmental organizations and cancelling their registrations, or whether it was even Binayak Sen, or whether it was the issue of the reaction to extremism and the way the state should handle it. I have been up there saying all these things all through. So it is not as if I was the spokesperson for the UPA.
The ideologue of the UPA will emerge from the government. It could be people who now promote technology, people who promote the fact that you should have the growth agenda—they are the ideologues. I am not. I am in the opposition saying that the poor need to be seen, that technology must subserve people’s interests... I am saying all those things.
Given the fact that you were advising the government in your position as an NAC member, but at the same time you were a vocal critic—was there pressure at any time?
There has never been any pressure on me, neither to say something nor to not say something. And I think I would give democratic credit to not only the NAC, (but also) the chairperson and even the government for not restricting me from speaking. They never told me that I could not express myself and that, I think, is a real credit because they have taken dissent, and taken dissent well, from me. I don’t know about others.
Did the fact that the UPA gave priority to push foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, but went slow on NAC issues such as the food security Bill bother you?
If you look at the bias of the UPA-II, it is in the favour of growth.
Do you think the idea of NAC has run its course?
I don’t think so. The NAC has positioned itself squarely in the pre-legislative process…the NAC where it deals with new legislations, new rules will be up for visibility in the public domain, which it is already doing. What we are saying is apart from many other institutions needed for the pre-legislative processes, one of those institutions will be the National Advisory Council. It cannot be run on the basis of (a) group of 14 people. They will be important and significant. They are necessary, but not complete.
Socially, one of the biggest problems that we are facing is that despite growth, the government has not created enough jobs. Do you agree?
Of course, I totally agree. Growth in this case has been the concentration of land, resources and concentration of even policy now, because policy is strongly influenced by the hands of rich people whose clear targets are profit and money, in which social welfare and even the concern for others plays a very small role. So all these CSRs (corporate social responsibility) are not really looking at raising the levels of living of the people.
The government is the only system that looks at what is very difficult and that is why the government will need to have a re-look at it. Take whatever help it can from all sectors, maybe even including the private sector. The private sector should help government policy; we can’t leave it to CSR. So, that’s the reason why I think we need a critique for the kind of policies that the country has today, from the point of view of the poor. And that is why I want to go back to them, so that I can understand and feel on my skin what is the real impact of unemployment.