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regular-article-logo Sunday, 25 February 2024

In poll-bound Telangana, Rahul Gandhi hears pain of gig workers, auto drivers

While many, grappling with wretched poverty, were bewildered to see Rahul in their midst, some wept in gratitude

Sanjay K. Jha New Delhi Published 29.11.23, 06:01 AM
Rahul Gandhi during Tuesday’s interaction at Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad.

Rahul Gandhi during Tuesday’s interaction at Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad. PTI picture.

A woman who worked for decades as a sanitation worker wants some kind of social security. A young delivery boy expects compensation if he meets with an accident. An auto driver is worried about his falling income because the LPG price has shot up from Rs 31 to Rs 70.

Who will lend a sympathetic ear to these real concerns amidst tall claims about India becoming the Vishwaguru? Rahul Gandhi spent an hour with sanitation workers, auto drivers and gig workers in poll-bound Telangana on Tuesday, understanding their struggle for a livelihood and promising steps to ameliorate their lives if the Congress forms the government.

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While many, grappling with wretched poverty, were bewildered to see Rahul in their midst, some wept in gratitude. “Nobody ever sat with us to hear our problems. People treat us with contempt. You are the first person who came to us. You are like God to us,” sobbed one, pleading for steps to create a support system for the poor.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi travels in an auto-rickshaw ahead of Telangana Assembly election, at Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi travels in an auto-rickshaw ahead of Telangana Assembly election, at Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. PTI picture

This was a different conversation in a campaign that has heard allegations of loot of thousands of crores of rupees. People cried for meagre amounts, complained of “mahngai” and of sinking into debt to pay medical bills — the real world that rarely gets space in the national discourse dominated by the G20 summit, the Ram temple in Ayodhya and India becoming the third-largest economy. When the Prime Minister goes to remote corners of the country, he asks if people are filled with pride that “Vishwa mein Bharat ka danka baj raha hai”.

It is ironic that the pain of the struggle in the lowest strata of society is coming
out through Rahul’s interactions and not through the media, which has largely remained obsessed with the government propaganda of progress.

How the poor cope with health crises, arrange lakhs of rupees to pay for treatment, and how long hours of work without a good diet affect their body came up in the conversation the Congress leader had on Tuesday.

Delivery boys said they used to get Rs 40 per order earlier but this has fallen to Rs 20 now even as petrol price has shot up to Rs 110 a litre, making their movement costlier. Yes, beneath the Vishwaguru bluster, the struggle is for Rs 20.

They said there was neither any insurance nor surety for an increase in income as the companies they worked for gave them no social security. Rahul promised a Rajasthan-like law for gig workers if the Congress came to power.

A food-delivery app worker explained how the morning-to-night toil fetched them Rs 1,000 a day. With around Rs 300 to Rs 400 gone on petrol, they barely have Rs 600 in pocket in a day. “We sit on the road to have our lunch in late afternoons. We sleep on the footpath for night orders. If the package is damaged, we have to pay from our own pocket,” a boy said, lamenting there would be nothing for his family if he died in an accident.

See the life of a sweeper against the backdrop of the draconian suggestion of a 70-hour work per week given by Infosys founder Narayana Murthy. Asked by Rahul to narrate her daily routine, an elderly woman said: “I wake up at 3.30 in the morning, cook and step out to reach the work site at 5am. The first tea I take is around 11am, followed by dal-chawal in the afternoon. I reach home at 6pm after 12 hours of hard work, earning barely Rs 13,000 a month."

She said her son had died and the family gold had to be sold for the treatment of her daughter-in-law. “The government betrayed us. All the promises made during election time are forgotten later. We were told by KCR that the government would build a house for us. We got nothing,” she said.

To rub salt in the wounds of people dealing with meagre resources, the Prime Minister and sections of economists give sermons on freebies while defending Rs 14 lakh crore of corporate loans written off by the banks.

Auto drivers explained how the rise in diesel, CNG and LPG prices has whittled down their incomes. They also talked about police harassment and high permit charges.

Rahul assured all these people to arrange meetings with the ministers concerned once a Congress government is formed to examine what can be done to help them. He also promised welfare boards for these sectors.

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