By Sudesh Verma
Why Defame Migrant Workers? What happened in Bandra West is a glaring example of vested interests playing foul to bring India down at a time when the world is praising our efforts to fight Corona (Covid-19). Who were these people? Why did they come on the streets? Why certain sections of political people and media was more interested in asserting that there was a chaos than fear the result of such gathering? Are they so bitter that even in this crisis, they would allow their animosity to create a fake narrative?
In the morning at 1015 am, the Prime Minister announced extension of the lockdown till 3 May. Almost all the States and well meaning people had demanded that it be extended. Certain developments helped spread the virus and containment was the only way out. Maharashtra and many other States, that had advocated extension, had already announced unilateral extension till 30 April. There was no room for any confusion. How did then a large number of people gather at Bandra West Railway Station in Mumbai?
Vested interests tried to argue that they were migrant workers desperate to go home. Also, there was food distribution taking place and the crowd became non-manageable. A question that was rightly argued in many Television debates was if they were really the migrant workers desperate to go home? If so, why did they go to the station without any luggage? Also, if these workers wanted to go to Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, Bandra was not the right railway station. Also, why migrant workers closer to other railway stations in Mumbai did not turn up there?
As per the 2011 census, Mumbai and Delhi together have close to one crore migrant workers which is one-third of the total of 29.2 million. Majority of migrant workers come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Those who came out and gathered near the mosque at the railway station certainly did not act on their own. They were clearly following rumours spread by vested interests keen to show the central government in poor light.
Whether it was the event involving migrant workers’ agitation in Surat a few days back or in Delhi when the lockdown was first announced, the pattern was same. The workers were given an impression that they would be able to reach home and they got misguided. Vested interests after failing in Delhi and Gujarat, tried the trick in Mumbai and used the gullible minority community.
Let us see some of the tweets that came during the day. It appeared they were celebrating the supposed semblance of chaos. Just when the crowd was being reported on Television, Mr Sanjay Jha, spokesperson of the Congress tweeted: “When you have lockdowns without creating any support systems for migrant labor, Mr Prime Minister, #Bandra will happen. There is panic and we need human empathy here”. (6.03 pm on 14 April). The target of attack should have been the Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashrta because this task falls within the purview of the State government.
He came out with another tweet a little later that was more revealing: “Let’s be clear: #Bandra happened because of the disastrous unpreparedness of the NDA government after PM Modi’s repeated lockdowns…. Now a word from PM on the human suffering of migrants. No solutions….Why is India surprised? I repeat, BJP cannot govern. Period!” (8.56 pm, 14 April).
The cat is out of the bag. The real design is exposed. Instead of fighting Corona, try to defame the Prime Minister. None in the country can dare say that the BJP cannot govern when the whole world is lauding the governance delivered. A few days back the same person wrote an article on how to rejuvenate the Congress. So the priority is not to fight the corona shoulder to shoulder but think about strengthening the Congress. And it cannot happen till Modi’s image is intact.
What he said is part of the larger narrative of the Congress. On 28 March, Congress president Sonia Gandhi argued that migrant workers should be allowed to go home in special trains. On 2 April she charged that unplanned implementation of the lockdown was causing chaos and pain. The same narrative was picked up by her supporters who went a step ahead to depict chaos. One just needs to see the tweets that came from people identified with anti-CAA groups on 14th evening.
A young man Vinay Dubey, known for his anti-CAA protests, has been arrested by Mumbai police for circulating a video message asking workers to come to railway station. Many similar people must have acted through grapevines to bring those people to the venue. After all, they have to support the narrative of chaos. Modi should not succeed. The casualty figures must increase. How can India be safe despite adverse situation?
Trying to use migrant workers to suit their political interest is injustice to these honest labourers, who live life of dignity through hard work. They are not less patriotic than any one of us and they support the call of their Prime Minister. They beat the utensils and light lamps to tell India they are with everyone. But they are innocent people, not much educated and get easily misguided by vested interests. If anyone goes and asks them if they want to go home, the natural answer will be yes. If they are given food and shelter they would never violate the consensus.
For those who argue that the lockdown was not planned, they should know that lockdown has to be sudden so that all those people should stay where they are. One should blame the Central government if the State Governments have not been given enough supplies to take care of people. It is dishonesty of the State Government that has led to the crisis. They wanted to send migrants home and get rid of the burden of providing for these people. In fact, this was a pay off time for them. These migrant workers have worked hard to make these States prosperous. Also, if they get the disease, the facilities to fight the virus is much better in these cities than their villages back home.
The much easier option for the Central government was to provide free train travel to these migrant workers. But that would have defeated the fight against Corona. It would have literally meant taking corona carriers to their respective villages and helping Corona to multiply. The State Governments need to be imaginative. People by and large are law abiding. They just need motivators who would tell them that it is just a matter of few weeks. Give them food at their places and other facilities and keep telling them that this was to save their lives and lives of the fellow Indians.
Police resorted to lathi-charge which was sad but unavoidable. Police need to figure out why they allowed such a large gathering. Wiser after the event attitude needs to be changed. You are dealing with human lives. I am not writing on what the Prime Minister has done for the poor since there is a huge list and that would need a full-fledged article. But for those who think they are smart, they should know that the Prime Minister thinks about issues much before you even imagine. It is not without reason that the poor man on the street has unwavering trust on him.
(Sudesh Verma is a panel spokesperson of the BJP and in-charge of the party’s media relations. He has worked as a professional journalist for more than two decades in Delhi. He has written a book on Narendra Modi called Narendra Modi: The GameChanger. The views expressed are personal)