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India’s great Long March

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This is another government -inflicted misery for tens of thousands of India’s poor migrant workers .

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has now forced these hapless millions  to walk back home from their workplaces which are hundreds , at times thousands of kilometres, away. Specially  from states like Maharastra and Kerala , where the coronavirus has taken a substantial toll. Some state governments like Kerala and West Bengal have opened camps for these poor people, Kerala CM Pinariyi Vijayan living up to his communist credentials when he called them ‘guests’ who need to be helped during the corona crisis.

The sudden declaration of a 21-day nationwide lockdown on the night of March 24 by Modi has pushed India’s huge population of migrant workers to the streets. With nowhere to stay because landlords were unwilling to keep them anticipating failure of rent payment with no work around, the workers were left with no choice but to return home, often far away in some other state. With trains and buses shut down along with flights, the footsoldiers of India’s economic growth for the last three decades were left in the lurch, with no choice but to walk back . The distress caused is unimaginable but the government is silent about it. Neither has India Inc come up to help — except for a lone offer by the private airlines Spicejet chairman to use passenger aircrafts to fly back migrant labour from Delhi and Mumbai. 

The Eastern News: 'Before announcing lockdown, assuring ...

The sight of daily wage labourer Bunty walking back 150kms to his Uttar Pradesh village from Delhi with a ten-month old child on his shoulders left many TV viewers upset, angry and disguted . The outpouring on the social media said it all. ” Have a heart , Prime Minister,” said a netizen. ” He has none, have you forgotten demonetisation 2015,” reminded another.

The current distress far exceeds the one during the 2015 disastrous demonetisation of India’s 500 and 1000 rupee notes which forced millions of Indians, mostly poor, endure long queues to change currency in haste, fearing lack of essential supplies and food. “This is trademark Modi. Make a sudden announcement without imagining the public distress it would cause,” summed up a Facebook user.

In the fight against Covid, Modi admittedly had no real choice. With India’s public health infrastructure clearly inadequate to handle a huge pandemic like COVID, a nationwde lockdown was the only option. But Modi’s government was slow to respond initially to the pandemic threat. In January when COVID was already raging in China, Modi and his lieutenants were busy toppling the Congress-led government in India’s large state of Madhya Pradesh. Amidst rampant horse-trading, the BJP managed to wean away a young Congress princeling Jyotiraditya Scindia with his band of 22 legislators . The Congress government collapsed and BJP could form its own . Even after COVID had spread to Europe , Modi and his ministers were gathering in huge numbers at events like the marraige of J.P Nadda’s son. Nadda is national president of BJP. Some BJP leaders including legislators were advocating consumption of cow dung and urine to fight the virus and one senior BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh even said “nothing will happen to us , our 33 million Gods will save us.” 

In mid-March, the Modi government woke up to the threat finally– much after state governments like West Bengal, Kerala and Delhi had got into the act. But while the state governments were pressing ahead with brief lockdowns and pushing social distancing through thoughtfully crafted media-driven campaigns , Modi suddenly took to TV and announced the nationwide lockdown, giving only four hours for people to respond. 

That forced tens of thousands of poor migrant labourers like Bunty on the street, with families including minors. 

“What would we eat here? One cannot eat stones,” Bunty’s wife told NDTV , walking alongside him, a huge blue bag carrying all their possessions perched on her head. Another family could be seen on camera walking  behind her, the man carrying his young son on his shoulders, his wife clutching the hand of their little daughter.

“No one helps you out in Delhi, the way they do in the village,” said Bunty. “We can even have just rotis with salt or chutney in our village . It will be peaceful there . But here, we have nothing. No helps anyone in Delhi,” Bunty adds bitterly to justify his 150 kms walk back home.

Despite the lockdown that has taken buses off the road and trains off the track, these desperate men and women have started on their way home, willing to risk sealed borders and vigilant policemen, who are tasked with ensuring that people not leave their homes except for most urgent needs.

Image may contain: 1 person, possible text that says 'Srivatsa @srivatsayb DeMo without printing enough notes GST without proper IT infrastructure Pandemic without PPE procurement Lockdown without planning for Poor In what aspect is our Prime Minister a 'Versatile Genius'?'

In his televised address to the nation yesterday, PM Modi had said “21 days’ lockdown may seem to be a long time, but this is the only way to ensure everyone is safe”. Staying at home, he had repeatedly said, is now a matter of survival. But for Bunty and family, it is a choice between the devil and the deep sea.

The government has also repeatedly underscored the need to share with the less fortunate. During his interaction with his constituents in Varanasi, PM Modi suggested that those who had the capacity, “Take the pledge to take care of nine families for 21 days”. That he failed to have an impact on his much-favoured band of crony capitalists who have hugely profited during his tenure in power was evident from no significant promise of contribution from India INC with the sole exception of traditional philanthropists like infotech giant Aziz Premji. 

The BJP has instructed each of its ten million workers to feed five people through the 21-day lockdown. Party chief JP Nadda made the decision, which the party hopes, will help in feeding fifty million people. But all this brought no relief to Harvesh as she walked back home with her child , luggage on her head , with fifty others to their villages in UP from south Delhi.

“Corona maar rahi hai jo upar se sarkar maar dalegi (Coronavirus will kill us , but the government is killing us on top of that),” said Harvesh , weeping bitterly .

“Roz kama ke khane wale hain. Ab bhooke thodi marenge yahan (We are daily wage earners. Now, we don’t want to die of hunger here,” she said.Most came from villages near Aligarh, some 150km south-east of Delhi. Some would take a day to reach, while others would take two or three days to make it to their villages. 

Munna Lal has walked 100 km over the last 24 hours with almost no food or water. He has to cover 150km more to get home. Lal, 48, is one in a group of eight laborers walking across the length of eastern Uttar Pradesh to get to their ancestral village of Gatla Beli in Bahraich district roughly 250km from Kanpur city, where they worked as masons.

Most came from villages near Aligarh, some 150km south-east of Delhi. Some would take a day to reach, while others would take two or three days to make it to their villages.

The sight of daily wage labourer Bunty walking 150 kms to his Uttar Pradesh village from Delhi with a ten-month old child on his shoulders left many TV viewers upset, angry and disgusted. The outpouring on the social media said it all. “Have a heart, Prime Minister,” pleaded one netizen. Another said: “He has none, have you forgotten demonetization 2015?” 

The current distress far exceeds the one during the 2016 disastrous demonetization of India’s 500 and 1000 rupee notes which forced millions of Indians, mostly poor, to endure long queues to change currency. 

“This is trademark Modi. Make a sudden announcement without imagining the public distress it would cause,” summed up a Facebook user.

In his televised address to the nation yesterday, Modi had said “21 days’ lockdown may seem to be a long time, but this is the only way to ensure everyone is safe”. Staying at home, he had repeatedly said, is now a matter of survival. But for Bunty and family, it is a choice between the devil and the deep sea.

The government has also repeatedly underscored the need to share with the less fortunate. During his interaction with his constituents in Varanasi, Modi suggested that those who had the capacity, “Take the pledge to take care of nine families for 21 days”. But he failed to convince his crony capitalist friends who have hugely profited during his tenure. The only capitalists who have come forward is Aziz Premji. Spicejet has offered to fly laborers out of Mumbai and Delhi.

The BJP has instructed each of its ten million workers to feed five people through the 21-day lockdown. Party chief J.P. Nadda made the decision, which the party hopes, will help in feeding fifty million people. But all this rings hollow to Harvesh as she walked back home with her child, luggage on her head, with fifty others to their villages in UP from south Delhi.

The government announced aRs 1.70 lakh crore package (“Gareeb Kalyan Yojana”) to alleviate the hardship of the poor hit by economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown. But poll analyst-turned-politician YogendraYadav took to Twitter to expose the statistical claim of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, saying the allocation scheme-wise she announced only adds up to Rs 1.20 lakh crores. 

With India’s public health infrastructure clearly inadequate to handle a pandemic like COVID-19, a nationwide lockdown was the only option. But Modi ‘s government was slow to respond initially to the pandemic threat. In January, when the virus was on the rampage in China, Modi and his lieutenants were busy toppling the Congress-led government in India’s largest state, Madhya Pradesh. Horse-trading enabled the BJP managed to wean away a Congress princeling Jyotiraditya Scindia with his band of 22 legislators. The Congress government collapsed and BJP formed the government. 

Even after COVID had spread to Europe, Modi and his ministers were gathering in huge numbers at events like the marriage of party President J.P Nadda’s son. Some BJP leaders including legislators were advocating consumption of cow dung and urine to fight the virus and one senior BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh even said “nothing will happen to us, our 33 million Gods will save us.” 

In mid-March, the Modi government woke up to the threat finally– much after State governments like West Bengal, Kerala and Delhi had got into the act. But while the State governments were pressing ahead with brief lockdowns and pushing social distancing through thoughtfully crafted media-driven campaigns, Modi suddenly took to TV and announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, giving only four hours for people to respond. 

Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor was bitterly critical that the woes of such a huge population has not been factored into planning an abrupt lockdown.

“From Demonetisation to the lockdown now, the Modi government has displayed a criminal lack of sensitivity to the distress of the poor and the most vulnerable,” Tharoor said. 

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