On Covid-19’s Checkerboard – the Migrant Exodus, Kaumi Ek Zahdi, and Indian Politics

The exodus of Indian migrant labourers is perhaps the greatest human tragedy of our times. Source: National Herald

The exodus of migrant labour is perhaps the greatest human tragedy of our times, played on the checkerboard of Covid-19. It was unseen by planners at the centre and its magnitude is frightening, but it is not spontaneous. It has been deliberately planned and executed. 

The exodus manifests a political party’s (the Indian National Congress’) myopia and desperate bid for survival, and the relevance and consolidation of the antics of another (the Bhartiya Janata Party) to erase the former. It actualises the regionalism initiated by the local political classes for a greater share in the resources. It is the translation of fear and faithlessness in the hearts of those who chose the long road home. 

It is the epitome of corrupt moulding of labour laws to benefit a few, the illegal sale of labour dignity by trade unions. With so many fissures in play, how can adversaries be left behind? It gives them a long-cherished opportunity to bleed India, this time not with a cut, but a slit of an artery.

The drama unfolds on the backdrop of anti-CAA protests, an external conspiracy to establish the Popular Front of India (PFI) in the political vacuum created by the marginalization of the INC. Delhi state elections bear a testimony to it. The good thing was that it unmasked the facade of “kaumi ek zahdi” (community solidarity) and we know now that hatred is not just surficial.

Could this migration be contained? Yes. The lockdown was to limit and delay the spread of the virus till we built the capacity of our response machinery. Those who argue against this know that even a 3% death rate can lead to the loss of millions of Indians, considering our huge population. Can so much loss of life be absorbed with sanity? No.

Yet critics choose to unleash a chimera of an information campaign with a cacophonic crescendo, triggering this migration.

Yes, the central government is responsible for bureaucratic oversight and lack of correct assessment of the political situation across states. However, the state governments are singularly responsible for letting the problem grow into catastrophic proportions. While they are limited in resources (especially, the police), their political egos are equally responsible. The states could have, with political will and bureaucratic determination, taken care of most of the migrants, if not all. The centre could have stepped in more assertively, but largely chose to abstain.

Maharashtra and Punjab, who top the list of states from where the exodus took place, are governed by the INC and their allies. Closely following are Karnataka, Gujrat and MP, ruled by the BJP.

I have no love for the BJP; it is just a political party like any other, no different from the INC. The love-hate equation which regional parties have with migrant labour is apparent, and since they pay a pro-regional agenda, not much can be expected from them. However, in the case of this exodus, the Congress, or rather, Congress (I) (Me, Myself) has stooped to a new political low.

In Karnataka, the BJP appears more as a regional party, allowing Kannadiga pride to equate itself primarily with being anti-Hindi. In MP, BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan has not been able to form even a cabinet for himself and Gujarat, of course, is their Achilles heel. As for INC-ruled states, it is unlikely anyone would have died of hunger in Punjab; I fully trust Capt. Amrinder Singh to be an able administrator. Maharashtra is simply a bugger’s muddle. Rajasthan seems to be the only state where sanity ruled.

So, the INC is very vocal about the plight of migrant labour. I am overwhelmed by the pathos experienced by Rahul Gandhi. My question to him is, why does he only talk, and not walk the talk? Let me explain. 

In Maharashtra, the state which experienced the largest exodus, why did he not use his political position, duly supported by his party, to implement relief measures?

The INC and their allies could have established outreach centres for the migrants and helped them contact their homes. They could have ensured proper food and accommodation for them, with due medical caution, and arranged transport back home. Local INC and ally leaders could have been present on-ground to upkeep morale.

The road from southern states to the north essentially go through Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Seeing the exodus, why did INC and allies not set up camps for overnight halts, drinking water centres and food and medical provisions at periodic intervals? They could have arranged reception and staging areas at interstate borders to receive people, accommodate them and medically examine them. Transport arrangements could have helped the medically fit move further, while those with symptoms could have been segregated and treated.

Instead, Congress (I) (Me, Myself) took to appeasing Muslim voters by defending defaulter Jamatees, running rumour mills across various states to create uncertainty, and encashing the pathos generated when humanity hit the road. The Markaz mayhem had already created another opportunity for anti-Indians, who further utilised the exodus as a leverage to blackmail the central government. Congress (I) (Me, Myself) added fuel to the fire.

The state is not as hellish as made out by social media crusaders. I have been along these roads and have seen that, just as there are stories of pathos, there are stories of kindness and humanity, where people have gone beyond their means to help these migrants with food, water and shelter. Rahul Gandhi is shameless enough to meet the labourers on the road and make a political point out if it; he must then also answer the questions I have put out publicly for INC-ruled states.

The outcry around the exodus forced the central government to dilute the lockdown and allow interstate movement prematurely – the surge in the number of cases in places people have arrived in large numbers bear testimony to this fact. Two more weeks and this could have been well avoided. This is where the government failed.

While this can’t be undone, what lies ahead? What about reverse migration? Sending 30 lakh labourers back to work is going to be a herculean task. Will they get their jobs back? Will people have faith, or will they start walking again? If early bird gets the worm, when the industry re-starts, is the early bird going to be Indian locals, or will it be Bangladeshis and Rohingyas filling the vacuum? These questions need answers and enforcement. I have nothing against employment for Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, but not at the cost of Indians.

Last but not the least, the unmasked ‘kaumi ek zahdi’ has created two clear paths – collaboration or collision. Extremists (and political parties) be damned, it is up to us, you and me, the common Indians, to choose our path. To coexist with love and peace, we will have to adapt a common path.

There is no Islamophobia in India. At best, the feeling is of selective distrust. We have equally loved Kabir and Khusro, Darashikoh and Akbar. We must have common contempt for Ghouri, Ghazani and Aurangzeb; for it was everyone’s forefathers, Hindus and Muslims, whose skulls they piled tower high on the banks of the Indus. It is up to the subverted, Arabophilic Muslim intelligentsia to open their eyes and build bridges by condemning the wrongs committed by the extremists, past and present.

Anonymous

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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