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National - Politics - Top News - June 11, 2020

Migrants’ ire might come back to bite Modi

The Prime Minister’s popularity may be slipping among the country’s large migrant force which has been suffering greatly during the lockdown.

News reports indicate that Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s standing among workers may be slipping. Not even a year into his second term, which he was elected into by a thumping majority, PM Modi was faced with the challenge of managing the pandemic. In enforcing a strict, nation-wide lockdown with just four hours of notice, the PM threw into chaos the lives of millions of migrants who depended on daily wages and who were now stuck thousands of kilometres away from home.

India’s fight against the coronavirus has been dominated by the struggles of these stranded migrant workers, who were pushed into untold suffering. Out of sheer desperation, many walked long distances back to their homes, some perishing on the way out of exhaustion or hunger. In one shocking incident, 17 migrants were mowed down by a speeding train as they were resting in the tracks.

Without their daily earnings, they were unable to survive in their cities and the help that was promised to them in the way of shelters, rations and allowances had been slow to come, if at all. Even the special trains that were eventually arranged to transport them home to various states, almost a month into the lockdown, are plagued by inefficiencies and delays. Agitations that broke out were put down brutally and many migrants were charged for violating lockdown.

Whichever way we look at it, and how much ever the Centre tries to defend its actions in the Supreme Court, the government has failed migrants in a massive way. The question is about the electoral consequences of this failure, just about the only space where the party in power can be held accountable.

The earliest answer could come from the Bihar assembly elections due in May. Currently ruled by a coalition government that includes the BJP, the state is one of the largest contributors of migrants with millions of Biharis employed in cities and towns across India as casual labourers, factory and construction workers and more. Many of them have been suffering greatly over the past two months and won’t be forgetting it in a hurry.

And neither will the opposition. The migrant crisis is powerful ammunition and they will use it to the best of their abilities. The BJP too is aware that it might be on the back foot in this regard and is already mounting its defences against such criticism. Home Minister and PM’s right-hand man Amit Shah speaking at an election campaign said that the whole country appreciates the PM’s work and he should distance himself from these criticisms, especially in regards to migrant workers.

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