How Amit Shah is whitewashing the migrant crisis, distracting voters from real issues
Even a global pandemic and economic devastation has not stopped Amit Shah from raking up the CAA, Ram Mandir and the abrogation of Article 370. In order to deflect responsibility for the migrant workers crisis, the former BJP president chooses to shift the blame on Rahul Gandhi and the Opposition.
On June 6, India surpassed Spain to become the fifth-worst COVID hit nation in the world. A day later, Union Home Minister Amit Shah kicked off the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaign in Bihar. On June 9, he shared the BJP’s goal to make Bangal “sanskarik” (cultured) again and appealed to his workers to usurp the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) from West Bengal.
Notably, it was not only the timing of these voter outreach programmes that was wrong, but also the scale and content of Shah’s speeches. When the country is struggling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, the Central Government’s second-in-command chose to speak about the achievements of the Narendra Modi administration over the last six years. Mr Shah literally tried to whitewash the biggest migrant worker crisis that India has witnessed since independence.
There was no reference to the death of migrant workers on highways, on the railway tracks, and in the trains. There was no mention of how the Central Government failed to avert the plight and hardship of lakhs and lakhs of migrants. The migrants who were forced to walk hundreds of kilometres to return to their native states because the governments failed to arrange buses and trains for them.
Instead, the former president of “the world’s largest political party” chose to train his guns on the Opposition. In Bihar, he asked “What did the Opposition do?” during the pandemic to help the daily wagers. In West Bengal, he accused Chief Minister Banerjee of disrespecting the migrants, and chose to sternly rebuke her by saying that her “Corona express” comment would lead to her exit from the state in the upcoming assembly elections.
While addressing the campaign for Odhisha, the Union Home Minister asked what Rahul Gandhi – the former Congress president – did to help the poor and the migrants. Possibly, Shah forgot briefly that he and his party aren’t the opposition anymore. They haven’t been the opposition for the past six years. The expectations of delivering during the global pandemic are from the elected – BJP, and not from the moribund - Congress party.
To mark the Modi government 2.0’s first anniversary, the BJP is organising extravagant voter outreach programmes across the country. Under the campaign, top BJP brass, including the Central Ministers, are addressing the crores of BJP workers based in different states, districts, blocks and villages. The saffron party had arranged for thousands of LED screens in Bihar to make sure Mr Shah’s "virtual rally" reaches the masses.
However, let’s stick to the Union Minister’s speeches made in Bihar and West Bengal. Even though the BJP maintains that Shah’s speeches in these two states were not part of the election campaign, the content of the speeches makes it clear what the saffron party’s intentions were.
In both states, Amit Shah bashed BJP’s political opponents, peddled the success stories of the Modi government 2.0, and asked the workers to make sure of the BJP’s return to power. In these two speeches, he made his best attempts to dilute the migrant crisis, shift the blame on the Opposition, and distract the masses from the real issues.
The Union Home Minister also raked up the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The biggest takeaways from Shah’s speech for West Bengal, besides the BJP’s dream of recreating the “Sonar Bangla” (Golden Bengal), was that at least thrice he spoke about the alleged political violence against the BJP workers.
He reminded the attendees that 100 BJP workers have been martyred in West Bengal since 2014, and that their sacrifices will be remembered when “Sonar Bangla” is recreated after the change in the administration.
Shah spoke about "the historic decisions" such as the abrogation of Article 370. In his words, this amendment led to the integration of Jammu and Kashmir in India.
One fails to fathom why the Opposition parties didn’t pin down Mr Shah for making such a reckless statement about a state that is an integral part of India - Jammu and Kashmir.
Shah, in his WB speech, had said “Since I was 14, we used to raise slogans – Jahan hue balidaan (Shyama Prasad) Mukherjee, wo Kashmir humara hai (The Kashmir where Mukherjee was martyred is ours). However, there was a pain in our heart that till Article 370 and 35 A exists, Kashmir is not ours.” India’s long-standing position on Kashmir, even before the abrogation of the special acts, has been that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India.
The BJP would have torn apart the Opposition leaders for making such a statement.
Attacking the TMC government, Shah accused CM Banerjee of blocking the Ayushman Bharat Yojna, and not providing the list of farmers for the Central Government’s welfare scheme.
Notably, even during the pandemic, the pitch for the CAA remained firm. Shah had dedicated nearly four minutes to the CAA and said that the TMC’s opposition to the citizenship act will make Banerjee a political refugee in West Bengal.
He had also levelled an accusation that TMC’s appeasement politics have led to communal violence in districts like Malda, even when the country is struggling to combat COVID-19.
Ironically, in a speech that lasted more than 50 minutes, Shah didn’t address the COVID crisis and economic devastation wrecked by the pandemic properly. He didn’t talk about how the migrant workers were forced to walk on foot for hundreds of kilometres due to the failure of the governments.
By saying that a few who became impatient started their journey back home on foot, the Union Home Minister tried to dilute the gravity of the plight of the migrant workers.
And in order to deflect and distract people from the migrant worker crisis and how the Indian Railways failed to respond appropriately, he launched an attack on CM Banerjee for her “Corona Express” comments. However, the West Bengal Chief Minister has rejected the Union Home Minister's allegations.
The speech in Bihar was not different. Before West Bengal, the former BJP president had reminded the Bihari voters about the saga of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s success, including the Ram Mandir judgement, the abrogation of Article 370 and the CAA. He spoke at length about their achievements such as Ayushman Bharat, Ujjwala Yojna, and how their administration has provided toilets and houses to the poor and welfare schemes to farmers.
Underlining the need of the CAA, Shah said that the act was aimed to provide citizenship to those who have been subjected to injustice in states like Pakistan.
Even though the Union Minister was addressing the Bihari electorate, the migrant workers crisis failed to grab the centre stage. A large group of migrant workers hail from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. To contextualise, in May, 80 per cent of Indian Railways’ Shramik Express trains were Bihar and UP bound.
Training his guns on the Opposition, Shah first asked in Bihar, "What did you (Opposition) do?" to provide relief to the migrant workers. "What has Congress done?" asked the former BJP president, further adding that the Centre had provided the best possible relief to the migrant workers.
Unfortunately, in the days when India is surging ahead to become possibly the fourth-worst COVID hit nation, the second-in-command of the Central Government failed to talk about real issues related to the pandemic.
His political speeches were aimed to gain the trust of the voters of the poll-bound states of Bihar and West Bengal. It lacked solutions as to how the BJP would achieve its dream of “Sonar Bangla”. It refused to take responsibility for the alleged blunders committed by both - the Central and the State Governments - to provide relief to the migrant workers of Bihar.
However, Shah’s two speeches should be held up as a shining example of how to distract and deflect responsibility, even during pandemic times.