The spectacle of the UP chief minister playing really petty politics with migrant workers as helpless pawns is quite unforgettable

India, they say, is a land of contrasts. There are stark contrasts even in the way states are treating desperate migrant workers, walking mile upon mile to reach home during the lockdown. Odisha has arranged for buses to pick up workers walking through the state from, say, Andhra Pradesh, to their homes in Bihar maybe, or West Bengal. The buses operate between the state borders so that transiting workers can travel in comfort for that distance before they are on their feet again. This humaneness, compassion and generosity seem overwhelming in the present environment of bland indifference to those without whom nothing in this country can be built or can function. The police in Odisha have also opened kitchens so the workers can have a meal.

In stark contrast is Uttar Pradesh, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government — Odisha is governed by the Biju Janata Dal with Naveen Patnaik at its head — with its chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, refused buses to thousands of workers. Yet Mr Adityanath did not have to move a finger. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had arranged for 1,000 buses that were to operate from the points where workers had gathered; all she and the Congress needed was the state government’s permission. The Congress would pay for the trips. After an initial refusal, it seemed as though the chief minister might actually agree. But things were carefully derailed, with the government demanding details of each bus, its driver and helper and determining that most of them could not go. Various deadlines were thrown about, one being for empty buses to go to Lucknow — the one thing that the Congress refused because of its futility.

The workers were waiting elsewhere. Ms Vadra requested the government to allow those buses that pass the test to take the migrants home, even if the BJP wanted to plaster the buses with their posters and claim that it was running them. The only important thing was to protect the workers from walking home. She failed. Heartlessness towards migrant workers has often been evident, whether from the Centre or from state governments such as Karnataka’s. But the spectacle of the UP chief minister playing really petty politics with migrant workers as helpless pawns is quite unforgettable. Yet both Odisha and UP are in India.

Courtesy The Telegraph