It has been a season of spin doctors. The Opposition Congress party and their acolytes are working overtime to give a twist to the migrants’ tale during the lockdown.
The ‘eco system’ dished out their versions trying to push the line that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden announcement of a lockdown – with a mere four hours notice – had rendered huge number of migrant workers jobless, and they were ‘ignored’ in the entire bargain because they are a scattered group who formed no voting bloc.There was another twist to the tale. This school of spin doctors argued that states like Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha did not have sound economic conditions themselves. Now, these workers are returning to these villages where thousands are already struggling for food and jobs for years and so what happens to the new lot of ‘job seekers’ in these development-starved states.
After high-voltage drama, UPCC president Ajay Kumar ‘Lallu’ was arrested in Agra while a FIR was lodged against him and Sachin Singh, private secretary of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in Lucknow for providing a factually “incorrect list” of buses to the UP Government
There was indeed hardship for migrants but their issue was blown out of proportion by a section of the media which forms a part of the larger ‘eco-system’.Some intellectuals and Twitteratis went overboard. For instance, Ramchandra Guha, a cricket writer-turned-‘self styled historian’ went to the extent of applauding South African government. while criticising Prime Minister Modi. But he was proved wrong the moment international media highlighted that “Thousands waited in miles-long lines on the outskirts of Pretoria for food aid amid South Africa’s lockdown”.
The CPI(M) in its statement demanded, “The government (should) reverse its policy of reprehensible apathy towards the plight of the migrant workers and take up their transportation free of cost and provide every migrant worker along with all non-tax paying citizens Rs 7,500 per month as cash support for three months and free rations to all needy”.This was on May 8, 2020 and by then Shramik trains meant solely to ferry migrant labour force back home had already started and the government had also announced several measures to provide relief to the poor and the migrant workers.
Therefore, BJP leaders had their reasons to realise it quite quickly that the migration issue has been blown up by opposition parties and “largely a section of media”. In this context, BJP spokesman Sambit Patra said that the so-called exodus by March 25 was ‘an instigated drama’ as with more than 100 positive cases and ‘health red zones’, it was ridiculous that half-a-lakh migrant workers were “encouraged” by the AAP party-run Delhi government to move out without being given shelter and food.
Another BJP leader Virendra Sachdeva of Good Governance cell, said the government announced Rs 1.7-lakh crore relief package to take care of the poor workers and those who needed immediate help.
Besides, there was an announcement of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Scheme, which was to cover 80 crore, poor people.
By April itself, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had also announced that the money would be going straight to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. Sachdeva said politics has surfaced in combat against the Corona pandemic as Opposition parties did not want to give PM Modi his due credit. “Even the other day, there were reports that Modi has the highest popularity among global leaders in the fight against COVID-19,” he pointed out. Things did not end here, nor had actually begun with that either.
AAP Ka ‘drama’
Let us take the clock back. March 25-26, 2020, hours within the enforcement of Lockdown 1.0, in East Delhi, journalists found a number of people ready to leave Delhi. They were in a hurry and looked desperate but they were misled and a confused lot too.
Wrinkles writ large on the forehead of Paresh Vidhuri, he admitted readily that he was a “worried man.” “I have no idea what to do. My relatives and three cousins have left for home,” he said sharing his story of agony as a large number of workers had decided to “quit bada shehr” (big cities) following the pandemic and lockdown.
Migrants row through the eyes of Devendra Fadnavis
Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has his version on the migrants issue vis-a-vis his state and the manner Uddhav Thackeray-led regime had handled it.” These migrant people have contributed immensely for the economy of Maharashtra. Some industries and especially housing industry is greatly dependent on migrant workers only. Now that these migrant workers have gone back, my fear is they may not come back ever,” Fadnavis told a group of journalists in Delhi through a video conference.
Thus, he underlined even after COVID-19 and once you get back into business of running the industries and if there are no adequate labourers, “this will have very adverse effect (bahut bura asar)” on industries in the western state. This is all the more challenging when India is trying to tap the adverse industrial climate in China and trying to attract industries in India and also in Maharashtra, he pointed out. Further he pointed out that the ‘new generation’ in Maharashtra with their social background and education would be more interested for service sector jobs and would hesitate to take up ordinary labourers’ jobs.
“During any crisis, people across the world look to return home; AAP leaders and others said there would be buses near Ghaziabad. A large number of Indians have returned from America and Japan......so what’s wrong when my poor brothers are also fleeing,” he said.
Indeed, India has roughly one-third of its population as a workforce but only 10-12 per cent of them enjoy the benefits of a fixed salary. Moreover, an estimated 23 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs 100 a day.
And thus the fear of going jobless had brought in ‘Reverse migration’. But it would not be wrong to say that most of it was an ‘orchestrated exodus’.
“.....Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) falls under city government and there was no business to organise as many as 40 buses if not more for taking migrant labour force and keeping and putting at doorsteps of Uttar Pradesh,” said a BJP leader.City-based BJP leader Sachdeva remarked, “Kejriwal and his mischief department is responsible for the exodus. AAP MLA Raghav Chadha should face the law for his cheap politics”.
The genesis of BJP’s allegations against AAP lay in a tweet from AAP’s Rajinder Nagar MLA, Raghav Chadha. The controversial message was later deleted from the lawmaker’s social media handle. An advocate, Prashant Patel, had also filed a complaint against the legislator and of course, the charge against Chadha included creating enmity, hatred and “defaming” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath under Section 500, 505 (2)IPC and Section 66 IT Act in Noida in Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, Union Home ministry also acted quickly and two IAS officers working under Kejriwal Government - Rajeev Verma, a 1992 batch IAS officer who was Principal Secretary, Finance, and Renu Sharma, who was Additional Chief Secretary (Transport) were placed under suspension for facilitating the movement of workers towards UP borders when lockdown was in forced.
The motives of the ‘motivated lobby’ definitely stand exposed.There was more to it. The AAP regime in March and the first week of April too had come under attack for failing to reach out to factory owners, senior executives and labour unions.Some workers told Organiser that in the absence of any effort to reach out to factory owners by the City government, some owners of industrial units in Old Delhi and South Delhi told them to “leave”.“The appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that workers should be paid despite lockdown till mid-April and also in future if there is an extension of the curfew had unnerved money-minded industrial unit owners in Delhi.
There was a conspiracy,” one of them said. Some of these workers also felt doubly let down by “fate and circumstances” as they all had voted overwhelmingly for Kejriwal’s party during February elections. “Chief Minister Kejriwal has been appearing on TV and saying Delhi MLAs and ministers will visit Mohallas to ensure Social Distancing and help poor people. But the exodus from Delhi show they were hypocrites,” said a daily wage earner Dasrath Dhivar.
During the early days of the Lockdown 1.0 itself, senior Congress leaders called up journalists and suggested ‘big story’ is migrants’ woes! Meanwhile, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also plunged in and dashed off a letter to the Prime Minister saying, “The number of poor people who are dependent on a daily income is simply too large for us to unilaterally shut down all economic activity”. Did he mean to say allowing Corona virus take people’s lives would have been okay? There could have been a few more instances which clear display political intent of the Modi-bashing club.
In Maharashtra – where Shiv Sena is heading a coalition dispensation along with Congress and NCP, and where lakhs took to the streets to return home as they did not get any mandatory ration, the ‘lobby’ and the ‘sickular media’ chose to look the other way or simply closed of eyes to save Uddhav Thackeray-Sharad Pawar duo. Most photographs and videos on ‘migrants’ sufferings’ came from states such as Rajasthan and Punjab. In Rajasthan, a group of workers were taken out of the bus and pushed into a truck which later met with fatal accident in Uttar Pradesh.
The video of a child sleeping on a moving suitcase is cited to be an instance from Congress-ruled Punjab and thus can the grand old party wash off its hands.Rahul Gandhi met a few migrant workers and posed for a few Twitter Moments snaps. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also sought to join the drama. The politics of drawing cheap publicity and photo ops landed Congress leadership and especially Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in a huge row. The ‘offer for buses’ meant for migrants backfired on the Congress leader as the Uttar Pradesh situation created a trap and finally ‘exposed’ the hollowness of the Congress offer. Uttar Pradesh police later booked state Congress president Ajay Kumar Lallu and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s secretary, Sandeep Singh, as the state government found that a list of 1,000 buses on which the Congress planned to ferry migrant workers contained registration numbers of auto-rickshaws, cars and trucks.
The UP BJP leaders also claimed that many of the buses in the list did not have valid fitness certificates or insurance papers and thus the lives of workers were put on risk. The FIR charged both under Indian Penal Code sections related to cheating and forging documents.A reasonable man like UP Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma said, “The question which needs to be asked here is why Congress is confusing everyone since the beginning. First, when we asked for buses in Lucknow, they said Noida and Ghaziabad and later they are saying that buses will come near Mathura and Agra border. What do they want?”
35 lakh+ migrant labourers have been transported by 2600+ #ShramikSpecialTrains till now; 40 lakh+ migrant workers have traveled through inter-state buses, till May 23
It is undeniable that there was a hardship for migrants but their issue was blown out of proportion by a section of the media which forms a part of the larger ‘eco-system’
If the Opposition parties and anti-Modi lobby were testing Prime Minister’s willingness to face challenges without display of nervousness, then the migrants’ row has given them a befitting response. In fact, in the entire period since March 25 when lockdown was enforced, he has not displayed any kind of ruthless reactions or even nervousness. The BJP, as a ruling party and the Modi Government, especially in key ministries like Railways, Home, External Affairs and Health, have shown their ability to hold their ground. The focus was on the job.
Prime Minister Modi through his March month’s Mann Ki Baat sought the nation’s forgiveness for imposing the lockdown. “I am sure you will forgive me that you had to undergo so much trouble. You had to undergo problems but there is no other way out to fight the coronavirus......But this is a battle for life and death.” People have understood the gravity of challenge and thus have stood by their popular Prime Minister. Various surveys only show Modi’s popularity remains unchallenged and this regrettably continued to frustrate the prophets of doom.
Whatever may be the intent of certain political parties and their media handles, the fact remains that despite all odds, lakhs of migrants safely reached to their desired destination. How to avoid such misery for anybody should be the fundamental concern and not making mockery of them through malicious campaign.