Explained: Two mega protests in Delhi, over OPS and MGNREGA
Sunday protest had thousands of govt employees demanding restoration of Old Pension Scheme; TMC-led MGNREGA protest on Monday slammed denial of funds for scheme
It has been a long weekend of agitations in Delhi, with protesters and political parties across the country assembling to lock horns with the Narendra Modi government. Take the fight to the doorsteps of the government seems to be behind the ‘Delhi chalo’ chorus currently being heard at two rallies in the capital.
One rally which comprised thousands of government employees and PSU workers was held at Ramlila Maidan on October 1, while another gathering involved thousands of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders, workers and supporters, journeying all the way from Kolkata to Delhi to "peacefully" raise their voice against the Union government’s alleged injustices, at Rajghat and Jantar Mantar on October 2 and 3.
What are these two major protests about? What is their aim and which political parties are lending support to these protests? More importantly, will it become a talking point in the upcoming elections in different states?
What are the two rallies in Delhi called?
The one held by government and PSU employees from across the country at Ramlila Maidan on October 1 was known as the Pension Shankaanaad Rally. Organised by National Movement for Old Pension Scheme (NMOPS), the participants wanted to protest in Delhi because they wanted the Centre to ratify their demand to avoid the onus falling on the state governments to make the decision.
The other two-day protest in Delhi organised by the TMC is called 'Dilli Cholo: A fight for our rights!'. The TMC said it would hold a peaceful sit-in by its MPs and state ministers at Rajghat on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2), to be followed by a peaceful rally of MGNREGA job card holders at Jantar Mantar on October 3.
What’s the reason behind the two protests?
The Pension Shankaanaad rally drew thousands of government employees – teachers, doctors, clerks, peons and PSU workers. They were demanding the restoration of the Old Pension Scheme that provides 50 per cent of the last drawn salary as pension. Protesters were seen with placards and raising slogans – ‘Jumle wali sarkar nahi chalegi abki baar’, ‘New Pension scheme (NPS) go back, OPS come back’.
The TMC rally is to protest against the Union government’s “denial of funds” for welfare schemes in West Bengal. The Bengal government has accused the Centre of denying the funds due to it under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
"The agitation will continue till the rightful dues of the people of Bengal are released by the Centre," said TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, who is leading the protest.
Why do government employees want OPS to be restored?
According to the protestors, the New Pension Scheme (NPS) is nothing but privatisation. OPS, introduced in the 1950s and exclusive to government employees guarantees a monthly pension equivalent to 50 per cent of the last drawn basic salary, along with a dearness allowance upon retirement or an average of the wages earned in the previous ten months, whichever is more favourable. It is a guaranteed return.
The NPS, introduced in 2004, is available to both government and private sector employees. Under this scheme, employees must contribute 10 per cent of their base pay, while employers can contribute up to 14 per cent. The scheme offers market-linked returns but does not guarantee returns.
Which political parties supported the OPS rally?
Opposition members from the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party, who are part of the INDIA bloc, extended their support to the protest. The rally also saw supporters from Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, where the Congress government has brought back OPS.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal posted in favour of the OPS rally on X, “We strongly support the demand of government employees to bring back OPS. NPS is an injustice against employees. We have implemented OPS in Punjab and have written to Centre for implementing it for Del govt employees. Some other non-BJP govts have also implemented OPS.”
Opposition leaders including AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his Congress colleagues Arvinder Singh Lovely, Sandeep Dikshit and Udit Raj, and Bahujan Samaj Party MP Shyam Singh Yadav, besides farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, joined the rally
Will the OPS rally impact assembly elections?
The protesters have demanded that the Union government and the BJP ruled state governments restore OPS before the elections.
According to political observers, OPS is likely to become a major talking point in the upcoming assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Mizoram, and Rajasthan. The Congress party has already promised to implement the OPS if it is voted to power.
Congress party made OPS an election issue for the first time in Himachal Pradesh. Notably, states like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have already restored OPS.
How many people are expected to participate in TMC’s rally?
More than 4,000 TMC workers and supporters have left Kolkata for Delhi on Saturday (September 30) to attend the two-day protest in the capital on October 2 and 3. Forty-nine busloads of his party supporters are slated to reach the national capital today.
What’s the TMC-led state government's issue with the Centre?
The Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government has alleged that the Union government is withholding funds for MGNREGA and several other schemes. TMC has alleged that the beneficiaries of MGNREGA and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana are facing difficulties because of the Union government's delay.
According to TMC general secretary Banerjee, despite the state government sending verified lists of beneficiaries in December 2022, the Centre is yet to make payments. "It is established that the BJP is forcibly stopping payment of dues of the people of Bengal," said Banerjee.
Will Mamata participate in the protest?
Due to a leg injury, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will not attend the protest. However, she has been repeatedly accusing the Centre of owing the state “around Rs 1.15 lakh crore” under several Central projects, including MGNREGA, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY).
The TMC alleges has alleged that the Centre is blocking the funds in retaliation for BJP’s electoral debacle in the state.
The Centre stopped disbursing MGNREGA money to West Bengal in November 2021, citing misuse of funds. Earlier this year, the Centre has said that they found discrepancies and irregularities after spot inspection in PMAY, and stopped those funds too.
TMC alleges that Centre owes the West Bengal government around ₹7,000 crore under MGNREGA alone, out of which ₹2,900 crore makes up the wages due to the labourers.
Are other parties supporting TMC? What's the political ramifications?
So far, no political party has openly come out in support of TMC's Dilli Chalo movement.
Bringing this issue to the BJP-government's doorstep is clearly aimed at embarrassing the ruling party. However, TMC’s big show in Delhi will probably help the party to deflect the non-stop allegations of corruption against their party members. This mega movement will help shift the focus, said party leaders.