Employment restricted to ‘local’ people in Indian states

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The magnitude of the issue

As in 2019

Robin David, Sep 7, 2019: The Times of India

Can we consider India to be ‘one nation, one Constitution’ if governments in four major states have either reserved or plan to reserve two-thirds of the jobs both in public and private sectors for only their residents?

For Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, together comprising almost 30% of India’s geographical area, ‘locals’ are not all citizens of India when it comes to precious jobs. Locals are those who have been living within the boundaries of their states for a certain period. These states want to become gated communities where one of the basic tenets of our Constitution – not discriminating against someone based on place of birth or domicile – does not apply.

As Article 35A of the Constitution has been done away with after abrogation of Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir has lost the power to define who a permanent resident of the state is and who isn’t. But these four states are looking to acquire the same powers that Jammu and Kashmir has lost. One can argue that Article 371 of the Constitution gives similar powers to select states to address historical imbalances and resentments, but we need to ask ourselves if we want to keep adding to this list 73 years after Independence.

It was on August 15 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hoisted the tricolour at the Red Fort and said that the country had finally become one nation with one Constitution with the abrogation of Article 370. But on the same day, at least three chief ministers hoisted the same tricolour in their state capitals and then either defended the right to reserve jobs for locals or proclaimed that they would usher in such a law. In the process, they undermined the Constitution without even a whimper of protest from anyone.

Chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, of course, became the prime mover of this insular step by presiding over the Andhra Pradesh Employment of Local Candidates in the Industries/Factories Act, 2019 which was passed by the state assembly on July 22. He even backed the new law in his Independence Day speech. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath and his Karnataka counterpart, BS Yeddyurappa, promised to do the same in their speeches.

Add to these Maharashtra industries minister Subhash Desai, who had said on August 1 that his government would pass a law reserving no less than 80% jobs for locals. According to him, a similar law existed in the state since 1968 and they would stop GST-related benefits to those companies that do not meet the 80% norm.

Of the four states, Maharashtra and Karnataka are controlled by BJP, which considers nationalism to be among its core values. The two states are also home to Mumbai and Bengaluru – cities that act as drivers of India’s economic engine. And that engine is powered largely by talented migrants from across India.

Before passing any anti-migrant law, Yeddyurappa and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis need to ask themselves if Mumbai and Bengaluru would have been what they are without migrants. Also, the chief ministers can’t say that they believe in nationalism, but not when it comes to jobs.

Jagan, on the other hand, wants investments from across the globe to flow into his state. On August 10, he addressed representatives of 30 countries, including 16 ambassadors, in Vijayawada and laid out the red carpet for their investors.

So, money from outside India is welcome but talented people from inside India are unwelcome if they are not from Andhra Pradesh. This at a time when Telugu techies have migrated to different corners of the world and made a name for themselves. In fact, if Yeddyurappa does reserve jobs for locals in Karnataka, techies from Andhra Pradesh will be among the worst hit as they work in droves in Bengaluru.

Jagan justified the new Act before foreign diplomats by stating that if the US government under Donald Trump could take away jobs from migrants and give them to US citizens, so could he. Comparing a state within the Indian Union with a country like the United States is absurd. Andhra Pradesh can’t insist that outsiders come with visas. The US can.

Besides, the Trump administration is seen by many as xenophobic. Its antiimmigrant policies are largely political in nature, aimed at keeping Trump’s white nationalist base happy. They have very little to do with protecting jobs. There is enough data from both government and independent research organisations to show that migrants have only helped the job market in the US grow. Andhra Pradesh has also had a long tryst with son-of-the-soil politics with ‘Mulki rules’ under the seventh Nizam which finally took the shape of Article 371D of the Constitution, reserving jobs for locals in government and educational institutions. The new law only adds another layer on insularity to this by reserving jobs even in the private sector.

In the end, it all boils down to populism versus Constitution. Will any political leader or party have the courage to stand up for the Constitution against this populist move? For the record, no one has challenged the new Andhra Pradesh law in the past month since it was passed. 

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