Monday, 30th October 2017

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Migrant: Will not return in Modi rule

PM takes abrupt decisions, worker tells Rahul on video

By Sanjay K. Jha in New Delhi
  • Published 24.05.20, 4:25 AM
  • Updated 24.05.20, 1:48 PM
  • 3 mins read
Rahul Gandhi interacts with migrant labourers on the Sukhdev Vihar flyover. Picture shared on Twitter by the Indian Youth Congress on May 16. (PTI)

At an unplanned meeting Rahul Gandhi had with migrant workers passing through Delhi last week, the Congress leader asked a man in the group if they would return after normality was restored. A middle-aged woman intervened: “We won’t return as long as the Modi government is in office.”

Kuchh pata nahin chalta karta kya hai, raat mein hi soch ke bol deta hai. Barah baje raat mein sab kuchh bandh, garib aadmi ke bare mein kuchh sochta nahin hai (We don’t understand what he does; he thinks in the night and makes instant announcements. Everything shuts down at midnight; he doesn’t think of the poor),” the woman continued.

Rahul on Saturday released a video of the roadside conversation in Delhi with the group of 14, whom he had persuaded to call off their walk home from Ambala in Haryana to Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, and wait for Congress-arranged transport.

In the video, the workers pin the blame for their misery on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both men and women are heard saying Modi doesn’t care for the poor and takes abrupt decisions without thinking of the consequences.

The video comes at a time the government has been peddling surveys that claim Modi’s popularity has soared because of his handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

However, millions of migrant workers have been walking hundreds of miles home — some perishing on the way — because they were neither given time to return before the lockdown nor given transport afterwards.

Rahul appeared taken aback by the woman’s blunt “thinks in the night and makes instant announcements” response, but only for a moment. He quickly handed the workers a cue: “Like it happened with note bandi  (the overnight demonetisation of November 2016)....”

Another man immediately responded: “Yes, he said 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee notes are being scrapped and they all got scrapped.”

The entire group seemed agreed that the government should have given them four to five days’ notice before enforcing the lockdown.

“Whatever he (Modi) had to do, he should have given us time to return home if there was going to be no work for a long time. We would have reached home instead of getting stuck,” an elderly woman said.

“Hamari corona ki nahin, pet ki beemari hai. Bhukha-pyasa mar rahe hain (Our problem is not the coronavirus but our empty stomach. We are dying of hunger and thirst),” an older man said.

The workers explained why they had run out of patience.

“He (Modi) announced a one-day Bharat bandh (Janata Curfew of Sunday, March 22) to begin with. He then announced a 21-day lockdown (from March 25) at four hours’ notice,” one of them said.

“We thought this would be over after that. But then came the second and third lockdowns. Then the fourth. Who knows if there will be a fifth and a sixth? How can we survive without money, without food? We had no choice but to walk back home.”

When Rahul asked how they had survived so far, they said they had first spent whatever savings they had and then borrowed from neighbours.

The women seemed angrier. “Whenever something bad happens, ordinary people have to bear the brunt. The big people feel no difference. They have everything — to eat and drink,” a woman said.

“The poor get no importance, the poor have to suffer and fight for survival.”

Asked whether they thought the lockdown had defeated the virus, the workers said they did not.

They agreed when Rahul said the government should have transferred some money to their accounts.

“We got nothing, not one rupee,” a woman said. “They said Rs 500 would be given; maybe a few would have got it. He (Modi) said not to worry about rent, but rent was taken from us. Electricity bill, water bill, nothing was waived,” a woman said.

Rahul was told how local people beat them up as soon as the group had stepped out of their rented lodgings. The police had apparently asked local people to ensure nobody came out.

The workers said they paid a monthly room rent of Rs 2,500 and had exhausted all their savings when they set off for home on foot, leaving behind utensils and other belongings worth up to Rs 5,000.

When Rahul asked what sort of help they wanted from him, they virtually chorused that they wanted to reach home. “Don’t send us back to Haryana, please help us reach our village,” an old woman said between sobs.

Rahul promised help and soon Congress workers arrived with two SUVs that took the group to Jhansi.

The labourers were fed on the way, and arrangements were made for rations and some money to be given to them at their village.

The video, which shows several clips of migrant workers walking in pain, crying and complaining of helplessness, ends with a statement from Rahul.

“Dear migrant workers, you are the strength of this country. You bear the weight of this country on your shoulders. The entire country wants nyay (justice) done to you. It’s our responsibility to empower you,” Rahul says.

“Nyay” is also the acronym for a minimum income support scheme the Congress had promised in its 2019 election manifesto.

Rahul ends his message with an appeal to the government: “A sum of Rs 7,500 should be transferred to the accounts of 13 crore poor families.”