After CAA, Migrant Crisis Emerges as Major Political Point Ahead of Bengal Polls as TMC, BJP Trade Charges

Seven months ago, on a muggy November day in 2019, Kolkata witnessed an uneasy calm at the city’s iconic 6, Murlidhar Sen Lane at College Square, which houses the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office.

To be precise, it was November 28, when the Trinamool Congress (TMC) won all three bye-elections to the West Bengal assembly, bagging two of the seats for the first time since the party’s inception in 1998.

The TMC managed to capture Kaliaganj, Kharagpur Sadar and Karimpur.

Party supremo and chief minister Mamata Banerjee thanked the people for the victory and said that it was a mandate against the “BJP’s arrogance” and its desperation to come to power in the name of the-then-proposed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Reacting to the Trinamool’s victory, Kamal Chandra Sarkar, BJP candidate from Kaliaganj, blamed the party’s stance on the citizenship issue as the reason for his defeat.

A month later, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was passed by the Rajya Sabha with 125 votes in favour and 105 votes against it.

Though there was a celebration at the BJP office, senior party leaders were aware of the challenges they would have to face after the bypoll debacle.

With more than 31 per cent Muslim voters, who raised their voice against the saffron brigade’s push for the citizenship law change, BJP leaders knew that the state polls, less than a year away, would be a steep challenge.

While the BJP leadership was trying to find an answer to the fallout of the CAA, heart-wrenching pictures of thousands of migrants workers walking miles after miles to return to their home states during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown and some states diluting the existing labour laws added to its worries in Bengal.

Reverse migration of distressed workers, having a significant vote share, could be a decisive factor that might jeopardise the BJP’s game plan to oust the TMC government in Bengal, analysts say.

A blame game has already started over the plight of migrant labourers as Mamata Banerjee blamed the Centre for their woes. She slammed the Narendra Modi government of not consulting the states before announcing the lockdown. Union home minister Amit Shah hit back and accused the CM of not allowing adequate trains to send back Bengali workers to their home state.

“We don’t have any differences with Mamata ji. There is no clash between Bengal and the Centre. Don’t you think it is the right of the ‘mazdoors’ (labourers) to stay with their family members in this time of pandemic? ​​But Mamataji is not allowing more trains to Bengal,” Shah had said.

The Trinamool chief, however, rubbished all allegations and claimed that her government had so far brought back 8.5 lakh people stuck in various parts of the country. “Some people are misleading people and lying that we are not accepting more trains and are not willing to accept migrant labourers. I would like to clarify that so far 8.5 lakh migrants were brought back to Bengal and by June 10 we will bring back around 10.5 lakh people. Not only that. We have paid the travel expenses of the migrant workers as well,” she said.

As per the 2011 Census, Bengal ranks fourth among states from where people migrate for employment. From 2001 to 2011, nearly 5.8 lakh people moved out of Bengal looking for work. Nearly, 75 per cent of India’s migrants work for daily wages in factories and in the construction sector. After, nine years, the figures have gone up.

The West Bengal Government has launched the scheme ‘Sneher Porosh’ to help migrant workers and ‘Prochesta’ for those who are employed in the unorganised sector.

As per the programmes, the beneficiary will get Rs 1,000 as assistance from the state government.

The Bengal government has also introduced ‘Samajik Suraksha Yojana’ (SSY) in this state budget for the unorganised sector workers, in construction, transport and other areas.

Under the schemes, they will be given various free-of-cost benefits, like compensation for accidental death or disability, health facilities, grant for education of children, etc.

Under SSY, they are also provided a provident fund, encashable on reaching the age of 60 or on death or discontinuation from the scheme, for which the beneficiary deposits Rs 25 per month and the state government deposits Rs 30. But, Mamata went a step ahead and decided to bear the entire funding (Rs 55) and the beneficiaries are no longer required to contribute.

So far all the schemes have benefited nearly 1.50 crore families in the state and Rs 500 crore has already been allocated for this scheme in FY 2020-21, according to officials.

Mamata on June 3 also urged the Centre for one-time financial assistance of Rs 10,000 each from the PM-CARES fund for migrant labourers as they are suffering from acute monetary distress.

Political expert Kapil Thakur sees the migrant issue as the second big political point after CAA, which will have a significant impact on thepolls in Bengal.

“There should not be any reason to believe that both the TMC and BJP are concerned over the migrant issue on humanitarian grounds. Both the parties are playing their cards to please these people who belong to the unorganised sector for their political agenda and votes. They were noticed because they revolted and clashed with the police in Mumbai

and Gujarat out of hunger. They were noticed when they took the stand to walk miles to reach their homes. Otherwise, no one is bothered about them,” he said.

“In simple words, the BJP is presently in damage control mode when it comes to migrants. This is the reason they are trying to pass the blame on to states for their woes. But no one is questioning, why they announced the lockdown without thinking about its consequences on migrants,” he added.

Out of the nearly 9 crore population of the state, more than 3.5 crore people are migrants or work in the unorganised sector, Thakur said. “As per government statistics, 1.50 crore people (belonging to the unorganised sector) benefited from the state government’s schemes (Sneher Porosh, Prochesta, Samajik Suraksha Yojana). As an average of three voters will be there in a family, the total voter strength will be around 4 crore. This figure is huge irrespective of caste, religion and sect. Even if the figure is two voters per family, then also it comes to around 3 crore. With almost one-third of the total electorate in a certain section, it is obvious that the ruling as well as the opposition parties will try to lure it,” he said, while adding that “their voter strength can turn the tables for any political party”.

​Analysts say a majority of migrants from Bengal belong to the Muslim community and they have already opposed the Centre’s stand over various issues like National Register of Citizens (NRC), CAA, triple talaq, Ayodhya, etc, and those from other communities are not pleased with the sudden announcement of lockdown.

Already ruling party leaders have started a campaign at the block level over the issue. The BJP is yet to get off the mark, with some of its local leaders alleging that they are not being allowed to work for the people by the state administration.

​Many of them say they were put under house arrest.

BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha has accused Mamata Banerjee of being neglectful towards migrant workers who want to unite with their family members in Bengal. He also condemned Mamata for calling them “Corona Express”.

Responding to such comments, TMC MP Derek O’Brien said the BJP’s priority is the 2021 Bengal elections and not the Covid-19 crisis.

“Amit Shah Ji, thanks for confirming what your party’s topmost priority today is the 2021 Bengal elections. Overcoming Covid challenge? No. Standing by those affected by Amphan? No. Keep doing your politics. Let Mamata Banerjee do what she does best — stand by people,” he tweeted.

He added that migrant workers were given just a four-hour notice before a 21-day lockdown was first imposed and alleged that 80 lives had been lost because of the BJP’s move.

“You gave #MigrantWorkers just 4 hours notice before a 21day lockdown – abandoned them. Robbed them of their dignity. Packed them on trains like cattle 50 days later without any food. 80 precious lives have been lost because of your neglect. If it still didn’t stir your conscience.. nothing will,” the tweet said.




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