PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: There is more than one way of looking at Rahul Gandhi‘s remark that the poor of Uttar Pradesh were being forced to migrate to other States to eke out a living. “How long will you keep begging in Maharashtra? How long will you keep working as labourers in Punjab?” was the Congress general secretary’s reported statement in his great-grandfather’s pocketborough, Phoolpur.
The most charitable way is to see Rahul Gandhi’s remark as the usual political rhetoric that precedes elections in the country.
Rahul Gandhi is heavily (and some say somewhat foolishly) invested in the assembly elections due in India’s largest State in a few months’ time. Showing up the “misgovernance” and lack of economic development in that State can be viewed as standard operating procedure for any politician.
However, it is equally tempting to see Gandhi’s statement as yet another reflection of his rather constricted two-nation theory of India: an India of the empowered urban-rich and an India of the forgotten rural-poor; an ameeron ki Hindustan and a garibon ki Hindustan; an India of growth and opportunties and an India of Dalits and tribals….
…in the creation of which he innocently believes Congress has had no role to play.
Not to be cowed down by the reaction to his initial statement, at successive rallies in Uttar Pradesh yesterday the “future PM of the country” made the following remarks:
# “Some leaders go to TV studios in Delhi and criticise my statement, but it is bitter reality. They do not pull down the windows of their cars to talk to beggars but I do. When I ask these beggars where they come from, they mostly tell me that they come from UP.”
# “Taxi drivers in Maharashtra come from UP because governments in the past 20 years had failed to bring industrialisation, employment, better roads, electricity or water to the state.”
# “When one talks of development, one talks of Haryana and Punjab. When one talks of IT, Bangalore and Hyderabad have the monopoly. Automobile industry goes to Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Nothing comes here. Congress has brought development and progress in other states, but UP is lagging behind.”
These statements are, of course, designed to show that his party is better than the other parties and it will be paradise on Uttar Pradesh earth if only they, the poor, would elect his party to power once again. That premise is always on weak ground when you consider the simple fact that the Congress was in power in most States for the better part of post-Independent India.
And wasn’t “Garibi Hatao” the slogan of his grandmom, Indira Gandhi?
But that’s not the point.
The point is there is a class-angle. Rahul Gandhi excessively focuses on “beggars” in Delhi, “taxi drivers” in Maharashtra and “labourers” in Punjab as if they are all victims of “distress migration“, as if the beggars, taxi drivers and labourers would all have been earning fat packets back home if only the Congress was in charge
As if there is no dignity of labour among taxi drivers and labourers.
Rahul Gandhi’s statement also opens up the more festering issue of rural to urban cross-country migration of unskilled and not-so-skilled labour that is a national even if “bitter reality”.
How exactly is Rahul Gandhi’s rant against the poor, the unskilled and the uneducated of UP going to Delhi, Maharashtra or Punjab different from (or more welcome than) the parochialism of the Maharashtra Navnirman Samithi (MNS) or the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), whose raison d’etre is built on deriding migrants or scaring the daylights out of them?
If one goes down this road, how much longer before other crackpots stand up and oppose intra-state migration, from Bidar or Gulbarga to Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore?
In a flat world where States are getting smaller, can every States provide all the employment for all its people?
More to the point, are only urban, skilled well-off workers eligible to flit from State to State or within a State, and work and settle down whereever they like because the Constitution of India allows them to do so? Should the rural, uneducated poor be condemned to the “bitter reality” come what may, for eternity?
On the flip side, can anybody make the case that Bangalore’s (or Hyderababad’s) IT-ITES-BPO boom is entirely fuelled and powered by local people? Or that there are no beggars, taxi drivers or labourers from “other” States in Congress-ruled or formerly Congress-ruled States?
Most malls in most cities—and Rahul Gandhi, who owns a couple of shops in one of Delhi’s glitzier malls, should know—are populated by youngsters from the Northeast. Are they just exploring India, or are they earning their livelihood elsewhere because they have no jobs or opportunities back home?
And who is responsible for that?
Are all those sex-workers from Karnataka who work in Goa and Bombay doing it for happiness? Are the Andhra construction workers building roads and bridges in different parts of the country doing so because there is no development in their home-State? And what about those carpenters and stone workers from Rajasthan?
To be fair, Rahul Gandhi knows the bitter reality more than most politicians because at least he has smelt the villages, but he also needs a reality check on his worldview.
Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi