Skip to main content

Did Modi seek to ensure migrants don't leave cities, quietly accept lockdown burden?

By Anand K Sahay*
Some images and events will not easily go away from memory. These are of a kind that brings up anger, a sense of loss of decency in those in whom we placed our trust, institutional failure, and diminishing faith in the state system as run at present.
The first imprinted image in this category, established in media photographs, is of the poor walking out of cities -- the long march by hundreds of thousands to villages, their emotional home, hundreds of kilometers away -- after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the first national lockdown in March.
As lakhs left cities, thousands thronged the Anand Vihar bus station on the eastern periphery of Delhi, in their innocence believing they will find inter-state buses that will take them home. Yhey were met with crude state resistance.
The later drama of police lathis being rained on the thousands of the fraternity of the working poor at Mumbai’s Bandra station is also an unforgettable picture. Their fault too was that they wanted to get home quickly. In the time of pandemic they had no wages, no money left for food or rent in surroundings that had suddenly turned alien.
Throw into this jumble of images a judicial obiter dictum which is as crude as it is galling- an unsubtle variant of a police lathi charge. In disposing of a PIL filed on April 1, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court asked why it was necessary for migrant workers to receive wages when they were being provided free cooked food. (For a time the Delhi government, when the clamour for relief rose, said it had distributed ten lakh meals to stranded workers, but acknowledged being hard-pressed.)
Their lordships have evidently missed a trick or two in their officious lives. They have yet to learn to stand for hours in a line for half-cooked khichri and find the treat has run out by the time it’s their turn. Better still, let them stand in the doorway of five-star hotels to beg for food, savour the delicacies dished out as charity, but be deprived of their money wages. The meaning of justice might then become clearer.
Max Seydewitz, a Social Democratic Party member of the German Reichstag (Parliament) when Hitler, unleashing Nazi storm-troopers and heavily nationalist propaganda, bulldozed his way to power in 1933, has something to say that fits our present picture somewhat. 
In a standout book describing that wretched era, “Civil Life in Wartime Germany: The Story of the Home Front” (New York, The Viking Press, 1945), published after he had formed the Socialist Workers’ Party, the German politician wrote that the regime “took away all liberties of workers and brought (them) nothing but exhaustion, death and ruin”.
A heavily researched version offering similar sentiment is to be found in Jurgen Kuczynski, the towering German communist intellectual of the time, whose forty volumes on the conditions of the labour force under industrial capitalism are still a tour de force. 
In “Germany: Economic and Labour Conditions under Fascism” (New York, International Publishers, 1945), he challenged the view that fascism was “organic” -- a necessary phenomenon -- to industrial society, and reached the conclusion that Hitler’s system was “a crude form of robbery” (of workers’ dues), introducing elements of “barbarism” and “a considerable number of characteristics of feudal and slave-owning society”.
In 1933 Hitler bulldozed his way to power, took away all liberties of workers and brought them nothing but exhaustion, death and ruin
For Kuczynski, the “main winner” in the period he addressed was “monopolistic heavy industry”. This is unlikely to be the case in India in our own day, but it seems indubitable that the coercion of the migrant work force -- whose pauperization is glaring -- in emergency conditions imposed by a spreading pandemic, is the most noteworthy feature of the landscape.
Some barred doors had to be suddenly unlocked under perceived public pressure as the government’s callous indifference toward the working class began to be noted. The regime agreed to run special trains to take stranded migrant workers home. However, unlike the case at the start of the pandemic of Indians stuck overseas, whose rescue by air was arranged by the Centre free of charge, someone had to pay for the workers’ train tickets. The bias of the rulers was not hidden.
The offer by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi that her party would pay for the train tickets created a flutter -- and some panic in some political circles. State governments rushed forward to pick up the tab. But the regime at the Centre remained unmoved. A convoluted circular of the Union home ministry has spelled out that the migrant workers, as yet unable to return home, must be held down in the cities as much as possible.
The BJP-run government in Karnataka cancelled schedule workers’ trains but had to reverse that decision under criticism. It is evident that other than the labourers who managed to flee back home on foot, running away from the dreaded disease and from economic misery (and some died on rail tracks, crushed by an incoming goods train), and the much smaller number lucky to find a train ride home, the rest will be coerced into remaining in cities and joining the work force.
The element of compulsion can scarcely be in doubt. The UP government has decided to suspend for three years practically every labour law. This is a kind of fascism, Indian style, being imposed by those who canvas votes in the name of religion and making the country great. In the capitalist framework, the use of force against a class of people to extract obedience is a key definer of fascism.
Now everything seems blindingly clear. When Modi imposed the national lockdown at only four hours’ notice in March, he was criticized for not planning with care. But it turns out he had planned it all too carefully. He had sought to ensure that the informal sector workers, the casual and migrant labourers, do not leave the cities and quietly accept the burden -- practically starve and catch the disease, if they must, because there can be no social distancing in their living spaces. And there would be no alleviating rider that the government would place some money into their bank accounts to kick-start demand.
---
Senior journalist based in Delhi. A version of this article first appeared in “The Asian Age”

Comments

TRENDING

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Why Bose's India Gate statue suggests RSS, BJP need violence-loving ‘Hindu’ Netaji

By Prem Singh*  In a TV channel debate, a BJP spokesperson and anchor shared and served a lie that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's daughter in her letter to the Prime Minister has alleged that the Congress kept devaluing Netaji to further Gandhi's non-violence; because Netaji had taken the path of liberating the country through violence mode by forming the Azad Hind Fauj (INA). They also praised the Bombay Royal Naval Mutiny of 1946 to confirm that the country got its independence through a violent route. I stated that I have read the letter of Netaji's daughter, and there is no such allegation in it. But a lie told in the intoxication of power is bound to be blatant. Netaji's daughter Anita Bose Pfaff, even in the past, has already requested some earlier prime ministers of the country to bring back the mortal remains of her father from Japan to India. In none of the letters she has spoken about devaluation of her father’s role in the freedom movement on the basis of Gandh

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Is coal import dependence of more than 50% by 2047 of any relevance to India?

By Shankar Sharma*  I have read the article " Building Resilience in India’s Power Sector " by N Vedachalam, released by the Observer Research Foundation, with a lot of interest. I expected it to provide few useful recommendations to our authorities in charting out a sustainable pathway to green energy transition much before the climate catastrophe push our communities to the precipice. But I am sorry to say that the overall discussions or the message implied in the article disappointed me. I was expecting the article, coming from an engineer with past experience in the power sector, to discuss the much needed recommendations to put the power sector on a sustainable developmental pathway. But I could notice mostly technical jargon and a lot of statistical information, which may already be available in the public domain.   The article also seems to have simply accepted what some of the official agencies seem to have indicated as inevitable for the power sector in our country;

Government 'fails to take up' Indian migrants' unpaid wages issue with other countries

By Rafeek Ravuther, Chandan Kumar, Dharmendra Kumar*  The migrant workers were one of the most vulnerable sections during the pandemic. India experiences large-scale movement of migrants internally and internationally. After the outbreak of the pandemic, migrant workers continued to face injustice especially in getting wages in expedited manner. In the international context, India, the home of 9 million cross-border temporary labour migrants, carried out the largest repatriation exercise ‘Vande Bharat Mission’. Even though the Indian government addressed the immediate requirement of repatriation, it failed to understand and recognise their post-arrival grievances, like back wages, social protection etc. Recently many workers were deported from the middle- east region. Amidst the establishment of grievance mechanisms such as Consular Services Management System (MADAD) and helplines in Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK), the unresolved grievances remain high. The number of unresolv