IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN IF MODI STIMULUS CAN TOUCH THEM
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the existence of the Other India, which has always been in existence, but remained invisible all along. The Other India comprises millions of migrant labour who do not belong to either the cities or the villages from where they had long been uprooted from. They don’t appear on the radars of politicians, policy planners and the bureaucracy, all of who are mostly obsessed with themselves and their classes of people.
They are the ones who travel herded in trucks, bus rooftops, atop trains and trudge along rail lines, often perishing during their trek back home, because the regular channels of communication and travel are beyond their reach.
The 16 migrant workers were run over by a goods train between Jalna and Aurangabad districts of Maharashtra as they fell asleep on the railway track due to the weariness of the long march to their villages in Madhya Pradesh during the Covid lockdown shocked the nation’s conscience, but occurrences like these are routine in the life of people of Other India. It is a different matter that similar incidents do not grab headlines as they are assumed to be a given in the life of these unfortunate people.
Just as they fall outside the universe of the policy planners, they were never a part of the Government of India’s Covid defence, globally acclaimed as top-class, because you cannot observe social distancing on rooftops of buses or when people are hanging on to moving trucks, literally filled with human cargo.
We have seen how people fell dead on the road in Delhi suburbs as they could not endure the arduous journey that could be anything up to a thousand kilometres long. They were just walking in desperation, not even knowing how far their villages were from wherever they started their journey from, or how many days it would take them or whether they would ever make it. But with no money in their pockets and no food to eat, they had no option but to keep walking homewards.
It took several days of struggle before some of the state governments decided to send buses to take their ‘citizens’ to their villages. Some governments even refused to let them cross their borders, obviously because they were a high-risk to their coronavirus defence.
Apart from the fact that these people and their life situation are not amenable to the norms of social distancing and personal protection, the Modi government’s core campaign against coronavirus has several aspects that suggest that it is not intended for the people of Other India.
For instance, Aarogya Setu is an integral component of the Modi government plan to fight the deadly virus. In fact, the installation of the app has been made compulsory for most sections of people, including those who have been evacuated from overseas as well as passengers of the special trains being run to send stranded people home.
But the stipulation overlooks the fact that the installation of the app requires a smart phone and internet connection, both of which are not within the reach of the Other India. According to the latest statistics, the number of Indian owning smart phones is only about 500 million, which means that the majority of Indians still do not have access to a smart phone.
The Modi government has announced a few stimulus packages as part of its Covid support initiative, but there is no way of determining how far these measures are going to make a difference to the plight of these people. Going by past experience, one can safely assume that it will make no difference.
Prime Minister Modi in his televised national address on the eve of Lockdown No.4 has announced a Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package. Although it includes the separate packages announced earlier by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and RBI Governor Shaktikant Das separately, this is the biggest ever announced by the Prime Minister.
Modi has promised that it would touch the lives of all Indians, including the migrant workers, but we do not have the benefit of knowing the details, which have been left to Nirmala Sitharaman to announce. As she is wont to doing, one can expect these details to come in instalments. For her, the whole is only the sum total of the parts, and perspectives do not matter.
For a start she did not do badly to keep her record intact. In her first tweet after Modi announced the unprecedented stimulus package, she mentioned the amount as 20 lakh, leaving the crores out. It is perhaps understandable that in the excitement over Modi’s address, she forgot to mention the crores, and she even apologised for the typo. It is indeed a small thing, although it is in keeping with the clumsiness that has characterised Nirmala Sitharaman’s ways of dealing with her important portfolio.