Around 500 migrant labourers who returned to Varanasi because of attacks in Gujarat organised a protest in their hometown on Tuesday, after ironically using as their escape vehicle the same train that used to ferry Narendra Modi supporters during the 2014 election campaign to what would become his constituency.
The protests, organised by a little-known outfit called the UP-Bihar Ekta Manch, took place in front of the Cantonment railway station in Varanasi, with the agitating labourers targeting Modi.
There has been an exodus of labourers from Gujarat over the past few days because of attacks on Hindi-speaking migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh following the arrest of a labourer from Bihar on the charge of raping a 14-month-old girl.
The exodus continued on Tuesday, although police intensified patrolling in the industrial areas and neighbourhoods where migrant workers live.
The protesters in Varanasi carried Hindi banners and posters that read: “It is the declaration of a war from Varanasi against the violence on north Indians in Gujarat and Maharashtra.”
Some of the banners said: “Gujarati Narendra Modi, Banaras chhodo (Gujarati Narendra Modi, leave Varanasi).”
The protesters warned Gujaratis and Marathis living in Varanasi of retributive attacks if they did not leave the city in a week.
The labourers returned home on Monday on the Sabarmati Express, which used to ferry a large number of Modi supporters from Gujarat to Varanasi before the 2014 parliamentary elections for the campaigning.
The labourers travelled in groups to prevent possible attacks.
Prince Kumar, a resident of Gyanpur village in Varanasi who works in a plastic pipe-manufacturing unit in Ahmedabad, told reporters: “We had plans of visiting our homes in the first week of November during Diwali. But factory owners and labour contractors in Gujarat told us to leave the state immediately because they wouldn’t be able to protect us.
“We contacted our people (those hailing from Varanasi) working in Gujarat over phone and decided to somehow reach Ahmedabad station and board the Sabarmati Express on Saturday evening.”
Manorath Singh of Varanasi’s Rohaniya area said: “Some people attacked us on Friday night. Police came to our colony and used mild force to disperse the goons. But after the police left, another group of goons attacked us. This continued through the night. Our request to the police to maintain round-the-clock vigil on our colony was ignored.”
Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani had said on Monday that forces had been deployed for the safety of migrant workers and appealed to them to return.
Ram Singh of Chaukaghat in Varanasi, who has been working as a labourer in Gandhinagar since 2016, said: “I had never seen such hatred for
us in Gujarat in the last two years. I would prefer to die of hunger at my home rather than go back and get killed
Ajay Rai, a Congress leader who had contested against Modi in Varanasi, organised a dharna against the Prime Minister at the Lahurabir crossing on Tuesday.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said he had spoken to Rupani.
“The Gujarat CM has said he is committed to provide security to north Indians. The violence in Gujarat has stopped,” Adityanath said.
The BJP on Tuesday held the Congress responsible for the attacks on north Indians in Gujarat and accused the rival of “conspiring” to create social divisions in what appeared to be an attempt by the ruling party to contain political damage in heartland states.
“The Congress is conspiring in Gujarat to divide the society. Rahul Gandhi’s blue-eyed leader in Gujarat, Alpesh Thakor, has been caught on camera instigating violence,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
Alpesh has said the video being circulated is an old one.