It is significant that the BMS has officially joined hands with other central trade unions to oppose corporatisation of the ordnance factory board.
During the first five years of the Modi government, the BMS pursued a policy of restrained criticism of the government in its public statements, and kept away from street protests.
The previous term of the Modi government witnessed two nationwide general strikes – on September 2, 2015 and January 8-9, 2019. The BMS did not participate in either. However, other trade unions claimed that BMS workers joined the January 2019 strike in large numbers in several sectors.
Economic slowdown, job losses and Modi government pursuing disinvestment of PSUs aggressively has forced BMS to heed the sentiment among its workers rather than risk erosion of its support base.
The Laghu Udyog Bharati, also affiliated to the RSS, is faced with a similar predicament. The outfit represents thousands of medium, small and micro enterprises, or MSMEs. It held its silver jubilee celebrations on August 16, 17 and 18 in Nagpur, which is also the headquarters of the RSS.
Several union ministers, including Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, attended the event. At the meeting, attended by hundreds of its members from across the country, the Laghu Udyog Bharati was more forceful in its criticism of Modi government's policies towards the sector than it had been between 2014 to 2019. Its chief Jitendra Gupta said the MSME sector has bled in the aftermath of the implementation of the goods and services tax, or GST. The outfit demanded policy changes from the government to spur manufacturing and expressed concern at the economic slowdown.
From 1998 to 2004, led by its founder Dattopant Thengadi, the BMS was the most strident voice, that too from within the Sangh Parivar, against the economic policies of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, particularly its efforts at disinvestment of PSUs. In 2001, the BMS had forced Vajpayee to shift Yashwant Sinha from the finance portfolio.
As the BMS prepares to celebrate Thengadi’s birth centenary next year, it is struggling to find a voice as credible as that of its founder’s within its ranks to oppose the Modi government’s efforts at disinvestment of PSUs. Now that is under pressure from its workers to join protests and strikes initiated by other central trade unions, the BMS leadership seems to be rediscovering the legacy of Thengadi.
The resolution it passed last week focused its attack on the NITI Aayog, but said the government pursuing privatisation was against national interest and would kill India’s manufacturing sector. It also demanded stimulus to revive the auto sector.
The joint statement of trade unions against corporatisation of ordnance factory board, of which a BMS affiliate is a signatory, termed the NDA government’s policy “arbitrary” and accused it of ignoring “all the previous assurances given by the previous defence ministers”.