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Migrant workers in focus as Bihar parties stay in poll gear

May 09, 2020 05:52 AM


Migrant workers in focus as Bihar parties stay in poll gear
Vijay Swaroop

PATNA :  The homecoming of tens of thousands of migrant workers since the Covid-19 lockdown began on March 25 and realisation that they may not be in a hurry to return to big cities for work has stirred political parties in poll-bound Bihar (the polls are likely to happen at the end of the year) into action.

Bihar’s NDA government, led by Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal United — it was initially criticised for appearing reluctant to get its workers back; the government has maintained it was waiting for a national protocol — is working on ways to find jobs for the returnees, a sure-fire way of ensuring heir loyalty.

Thus far, around a quarter of a million people, all migrant workers, have found their way back to Bihar according to government records. “The CM has made it clear that this is the time to convert challenges into opportunities. The idea of skill mapping of returning migrants is to ensure better utilization of their services,” said JD (U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan, who attended a recent meeting of office-bearers of his party, chaired by CM. Ranjan conceded that these workers would play a crucial role in polls.

“Those who have returned or are returning are here to stay. They are not returning to their workplace for at least two years ,” said BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan. BJP and JD(U) are allies in Bihar.

Paswan added that their return is good for the ruling alliance. “A majority of them, about 75%, are from extremely backward castes, 20% are SCs/STs and barely 5% are from upper caste. The caste profile of the migrants suits us, even though they are a bit against us today because of the vacillation of the state government over their return.”

But that’s solvable, he seemed to suggest. “All we need to do is to accommodate them, think about their re-employment so that there is no social unrest.”

The Congress has been quick to claim credit for migrants’ return. “From the very beginning, the Congress has been demanding that the central and state governments facilitate the return of migrant labourers... But neither paid any heed,” state unit chief Madan Mohan Jha said.

Experts say that a meaningful utilisation of migrants’ skills can help the backward state. “They are skilled to perform in primary as well as service sectors. If the government meaningfully links them with the help of financial institutions, they will make Bihar shine,” says D M Diwakar, a political expert with AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies.

Shefali Roy, head of department (political science) at Patna University, says, “The announcement of the government to give Rs 1500 (500+1000) to each of them after 21 days of quarantine is a strategy to woo future voters. Memory is short so the troubles will soon be forgotten by labourers and cash will definitely soften their opinion towards the government.” “They have been instrumental in development of Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi, Gujarat and several states. We welcome them. They are good omen for us,” said state BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel.

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