When the union minister for Information & Broadcasting was engrossed in watching and enjoying the Ramayana serial at his official residence, a Delhi youth Ranveer Singh would have crossed the capital's border. Ranveer was an ordinary labourer earning his living through daily wages as delivery agent in some restaurants of Delhi. When the prime minister declared a three-week long lockdown against Covid-19, though without any advance preparations, Ranveer became just one among the thousands thrown to the streets. On realising that he could no longer survive with neither an income nor any food, he decided to go back to his native Morena district in Madhya Pradesh, 200 kilometers away. And with no transport in sight, he had but to go on foot.
The next night, he set out on a long trek, even without any water to drink. When he covered 100 km, he only had some tea and biscuits offered by a stray stall-keeper. When he reached a point yet far from his home village, the 39-year old fell exhausted and died reportedly of heart attack. The country now abounds in pictures of lacs of Ranveers who have by now started their long journey on foot as an impact of Modi's 8 o'clock fiat. The moving spectcles of mass migration of labourers and their families who had come to Delhi in search of jobs, are as scary as those of Covid virus itself. The mobs, waiting for buses in the Delhi-UP border town Ghaziabad and similar places, to get home 'violating' the lockdown, can in every sense fit the description of 'internally displaced persons'. This exodus is reminiscent of the millions of refugees fleeing the regions of conflict in north Africa and West Asia and waiting at the entry points of European Union like Macedonia. If thousands had swum across the Mediterranean for a new lease of life in Europe's soil, the difference is only that here they are walking. There is only one driver for any migration: a square meal.
Delhi's migrant labourers number over two million. With the declaration of lockdown, a majority of this have been thrown into dire hardship. As per figures of Delhi government itself, food and basic amenities have been arranged only for four lack people. As for the Centre, other than declaring 'lockdown', it did not make a single proactive intervention in preparation. In this situation, an exodus is nothing but natural. When the government is facing a serious health crisis, this sidelined segment came out to defend against hunger deaths. On such exodus hitting headlines even in internatinal media, neighbouring states came forward to send buses to fetch them. But let there be no mistaking that this picture is limited to Delhi.
News stories about such mass flow have been coming from the peripheries of metro cities Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru. The tale told by many waiting for buses in Ghaziabad and other places is that a majority of them do not have any identity documents like Aadhaar. In other words, as things stand now, they are not likely to receive any concessions given by the government. This needs to be noted as a mirror image of the Indian situation. If and when the NRC (National Register of Citizens), announced by home minister Amit Shah, comes into force across the country, any one can guess what would happen to this large section. Thus, as many have already observed, what Modi's lockdown declaration reminds is not his earlier note-ban announcement, but worse, the mobs waiting for buses clearly presage the hordes of refugees likely to emerge as a consequence of the NRC in the pipeline.
More lamentable is the attitude of those in power towards this mass migration. The prime minister said he sought forgiveness of those facing hardship due to the lockdown. There is no meaning in such apology after having thrown 130 crore people into a merciless lockdown at a mere four hours notice, with no planning whatsoever. This statement carries hardly any better solemnity than the request for a waiting period of 50 days after the note-ban. And the ones who are now left on the streets are the same lot whose backs were broken during demonetisation. The ongoing call on them is still to sit at home. And where are the teeming millions, who have lost their home and shelter, supposed to go? Is our current regime under the fallacy that the nostalgia of Ramanand Sagar's serial – instrumental once in sowing the toxic seeds of the sangh politics – can ward off people's hunger?