Gujarat migrants’ exodus: Politics amid plight of poor workers
Opinion

Gujarat migrants’ exodus: Politics amid plight of poor workers

To harass, bully, intimidate, maul and even kill weak and vulnerable sections like minorities, women and Dalits are somehow, though whether rightly or wrongly, thought to be the new normal as society in general has been getting more and more brutalised through past few years. Yet, occupational susceptibilities and easy targeting because of this have rather been rare than what turned to be the case recently with the poor and hapless migrant workers of Ahmadabad and a few other districts of Gujarat. The very partners and stake holders in the economic betterment of the prosperous western province have been forced to leave the State in droves in order to save their lives and limbs.

A case of rape of a toddler in Sabarkantha district allegedly by a worker from far off Bihar has been made into a justification for targeting Hindi speaking workers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Though the suspect has been arrested the locals’ ire gave way to collective punishment of migrant worker through attacks on their lives and property with the intention to scare them away from their tenuous preserves hired to live near their workplace. The violent incidents are now abating after 10 agonising days or so have nevertheless brought the echoes and shades of riots in the past. The fears about their leaving behind precedence for subsequent violence have unfortunately come true.

Though workforce bears the brunt of almost every riot this time the migrant labour class alone has come to face the riotous mobs wrath. And the fact that this dragged on for longer than what should have been the case forcing tens of thousands of migrant workers to flee points to the lack of will on the part of the State, Government, administration and police to intervene effectively, control and stem out the totally unjustified attacks and cases of clear and pure vandalism. The reason behind this is simply that those wielding power preferred to go along with the local wont to target and punish those whom they considered to be outsiders instead of taking them as stakeholders in the progress and development of the province. Among other things the violent incidents that rocked at least seven districts of Gujarat, including the State Capital, palpably indicate towards new faultlines and breaches being built in the society. These mainly are:

  • An increased regional consciousness and affiliation
  • Disrespect for the concept of dignity of labour
  • Creating an enemy within
  • Negation of cosmopolitan behaviour that accompanies industrialisation
  • Discovering and nurturing new forms of discrimination
  • And last but not the least making violence a tool of uppance, political or otherwise

What made the workers an easy target is their low economic level under their employment through contractors in small or medium size units that outnumber big industry. Because of this the workers cannot be said to be fully and securely part of the formal or industrial sector. In the absence of adequate job security these workers mostly had a workaday life which has rudely been broken besides triggering off their return to their homes. The question that arises is: How could such mass exodus become possible within a few days time despite its propensity to disrupt local industry? For answer to this one has to look at the political climate of the State and also largely that of the country.

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The time for general elections is coming and thus the entire country is getting into election mode. The paucity of jobs and wrangling for them by different social groups are likely to hurt the prospects of ruling party in the next year’s countrywide elections. And, thus, the BJP Government in Gujarat has promised to enforce a law to make 85 percent jobs available to only local workers. The migrants’ exodus and the weak kneed approach to stop it point only to the provincial Government’s preference for locals over the migrants. A ghastly incident of rape causing widespread indignation and outrage among locals had somehow the proclivity for what the Government has been doing to give locals an upper hand over migrants vis-à-vis jobs in the State.

Add to this the rage that was built up among the castemen of the rape survivor infant and their political loyalties. The State Government blamed a young Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor for instigating the mobs through his speech on October 1, or two days after the incident of rape, though the MLA vehemently denies it. The fact that the MLA has the support of a Thakor Sena, the Gujarat politicos awaited the Sena’s rivalry with a somewhat similar Patels’ outfit led by Hardik Patel to come into play with the migrants’ exodus. Such political bickering in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home State was bridged by the Congress in last year’s Assembly polls as Thakor joined the party and Hardik supported it from outside. Congress did better than what was expected of it in the polls and, thus, the new caste, or social, equations appeared to be going against the BJP.

After the attack on migrants both Alpesh and Hardik have appealed in favour of migrants rights to live and work in Gujarat though the BJP has been blaming Alpesh of instigating violence. This is so because of the muscle flexing by Thakors in the wake of rape which has not been liked by Patels besides others. In the past Thakors and Patels have been against each other since the former have got job reservation in Gujarat unlike Patels.

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What have really been missed amid such faultlines are migrants’ interests and their vulnerability. Though the migrants return to their hometowns and villages in Bihar and UP caused some consternation in the two States. The Chief Ministers of both these States did hardly anything more than calling up their Gujarat counterpart Vijay Rupani to seek safety and security of migrant labour from Bihar and UP.

These efforts on the part of Nitish Kumar and Yogi Adityanath remind of RJD, or Rashtriya Janata Dal, leader Lalu Yadav’s more unambiguous Assam visit over a decade ago in the wake of attacks on Bihari migrant workers in the North Eastern State at that point of time. So a more proactive approach on the part of present Bihar and UP Chief Ministers to win back their States’ migrant labours’ rights in Gujarat is perhaps what is greatly called for in the wake of the unseemly incidents affecting lives and livelihood of scores of poor workers.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Abid Shah is a freelance writer and journalist based in Delhi.

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