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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 24, New Delhi, May 30, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition no.10

Saturday 30 May 2020


Today is May 30, 2020. A year ago Narendra Modi Government returned to power with a lot of fanfare. Today the PM, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, have, while recalling the past year, sought to blow their trumpets in two major national dailies in a bid to highlight the ’achievements’ of the Modi 2.0 again bringing into focus the contours of ’self-reliant advance of the country’ under the Modi-Shah dispensation.

In contrast, what the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, himself a former Union Minister wrote today in the Indian Express, bringing out in bold relief the grim reality of the last one year. We are reproducing a few paragraphs from the article, "A year of stress and distress" to underscore the essence of his write-up. "As the Narendra Modi led BJP Government completes one year of its second successive term in office, India can only look back in distress as to how the nation has been brought to its knees in just twelve months. The last year has witnessed a total failure of the Central Government on administrative, economic, foreign affairs and social fronts. This year has been one where India has faced an economic crisis, job losses, cycles of violence and a pandemic that now threatens to blow out of control...

..... While the pandemic itself is a massive challenge, its impact on the economy is going to be long-lasting. The rate of unemployment has crossed all previous records. According to one estimate, in April 2020 alone, 12 crore people lost their jobs - the highest figure in almost half a century. Perhaps some of these troubles could have been mitigated had the Modi Government listened to the Opposition.

"Had the lockdown been announced earlier, perhaps it would have helped to arrest the Corona Virus threat. But the Modi-Shah duo wanted to topple the Congress Government in Madhya Pradesh and capture power there. In the process they put the entire nation at risk. Today MP is among the top three states in the grip of the pandemic. And when the government did impose a lockdown, it did so without preparation, warning or planning. The economy was brought to a sudden halt. Millions of migrant workers were left to their fate. They faced hunger, starvation, infection and death...
"As the Modi Government prepares to hold over ’online rallies’ perhaps those offline millions of migrants and jobless workers and youth will recall a harrowing year of unemployment, violence and the vision of a bleak future ahead. The Congress demands that the government immediately provide direct financial support and assistance to migrant workers in distress till the MSME sector is back on its feet and can offer the dignity of jobs once again to this crucial workforce."


For over two months the unstoppable exodus of hundreds of thousands of migrants walking their way home has been everyday news throughout national Covid-19 Lockdown. After continued denials and misrepresentation of facts by state officials including by the Solicitor General of India— ‘No one is now on road’ and ’No Starvation In Three Months’. — finally, they had to set up the special trains to allow the transport of workers. But this has been a shabby process, on the one hand, there has been much controversy over migrant workers having to pay for the fares – Central govt is not footing the bill despite having collected tons of money are donations for the PM Cares fund. On the other hand, we have witnessed a sort of breakdown in the normally very efficient system of the railways – there are umpteen reports of these ‘unscheduled’ trains carrying migrants not getting priority over cargo trains and losing their way as they get diverted and facing very long delays. This has naturally led to miserable conditions on the trains with little provision for food or water for the migrant workers. A group of senior lawyers wrote a pungent letter to the Supreme Court of India for shirking in its duty to uphold constitutional principles and not taking up the cause of migrants; also the highly respected social activist Medha Patkar and other NAPM activists approached the court pointing at the distress of migrant workers — this has paid off and the court has ordered the state to ensure that: “ . . . Free travel for all migrant workers; Stranded migrant workers will be provided free food by the states in which they are stranded.; Food and water must be provided to those in transit, both in buses and trains. The States or the Railways must bear this cost.; Food, water and transport should be provided for those walking on roads/highways immediately by the concerned States/UTs. . . .”

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The Uttar Pradesh government can be said to be attempting to use the emergency created by the pandemic to give itself undue powers over its citizens. The workers went out of UP to different states and abroad at their will. The decision of workers to return to their worksites, or not, is best left to them.

In a recent interaction with the RSS-affiliated publications ‘Panchjanya’ and ‘Organiser’ The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh said “Any state which wants migrant workers of Uttar Pradesh back, has to seek permission from the state government …” says a PTI report carried in Financial Express The Yogi ought to consult constitution experts before making bizarre statements that don’t stand the test of law. Migrant workers are citizens and not a state-controlled commodity. The Indian laws and constitution permit fundamental rights of freedom of movement to all citizens and that’s how it should be in any modern democracy.

This huge humanitarian crisis is a reverse migration by the migrant workers who are headed back to rural areas and small towns, it is imperative that the MGNREGA scheme should be reactivated in a big way to allow these returning workers who have lost jobs. to find paid work. Also, India is in clear violation of International conventions by overturning the existing labour laws of the country. It is very odd that India’s Minister of Labour is now where to be seen or heard on these subjects

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Fifty-six years have passed since May 27, 1964, when our first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru breathed his last in New Delhi. While remembering him, we are highlighting a part of the foreword he wrote to "Dharamnirpeksh Raj" by Raghunath Singh in 1961

"Our Constitution lays down that we are a secular state but it must be admitted that this is not reflected in our mass living and thinking.....
"We have not only to live up to the ideals proclaimed in our Constitution, but make them a part of our thinking and living and thus build up a really integrated nation. That, I repeat, does not mean absence of religion, but putting religion on a different place from that of normal political and social life. Any other approach in India could mean the breaking up of India. ...

" Ultimately even nationalism will prove a narrowing creed, and we shall all be citizens of the world with a truly international vision. For the present, this may be beyond most people’s and most countries. For us in India, we have to build a true nationalism, integrating the various parts and creeds and religions of our country, before we can launch out into real internationalism . Without the basis of a true nationalism, internationalism may be vague and amorphous without any real meaning.
But the nationalism that we build in India should have its doors and windows open to internationalism. "

We also carry a passage from our founder editor’s ’New Delhi Skyline’ that appeared in Mainstream after Jawaharlal Nehru’s demise. It was published on May 30, 1964.:

"As the golden flame licked up the funeral pyre, an unforgettable scene ended near the banks of the Jumna and under the shadow of the Red Fort.
"It was an emotional experience without precedence to watch this mightiest demonstration of love and respect that this great country has paid to any man. For Jawaharlal Nehru was for the vast mass that is engulfed in sorrow today, not just a symbol of freedom he was part of their very personality: it is difficult for this entire generation of ours to think of India without him; whatever we felt and learnt, made us happy or sad, our hopes and our frustrations, were all inextricably interwoven with him.

"As the millions came to join in his funeral, through the streets of Delhi, new and old, they were as yet too stunned to feel the pangs of his loss in full measure. An indescribable sense of the coming void of an existence in which Nehru would no longer be there seemed to have gripped them. The expression often used in his life that he could feel the pulse of the nation, could be understood in the fullest measure when one watched with awe the vast sea of humanity that accompanied him for miles in the gruelling summer sun. A sense of personal loss was writ large on every face young and old.
"The remarkable initiative shown by the vast concourse of men and women in mourning could hardly be missed as the cortege was carried from the Prime Minister’s House to the open space beyond Rajghat. The Army and the Police could not manage the solid phalanx that thronged the eight-mile route: but spontaneously, the people with an amazing sense of dignity befitting the poignant occasion made way for the entire funeral procession to pass while they themselves were wending their way to the cremation ground."

This month we also remember Nehru’s grandson, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who died a martyr’s death on May 21, 1991, precisely thirty years ago. Rajiv too played a major role in the global arena seeking to build a world free of nuclear catastrophe and strove to mobilise world opinion for this task. At the national level, he carried out his mother’s work of ensuring decentralisation of power and bringing the benefits of Panchayati Raj for our teeming millions.

May 30 The Editor

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