Migrant Labour Exodus Shines a Light on the Dark Side of Modi's 'Gujarat Model'

Those leading the campaign against the migrants are largely local, unemployed youth that the ‘Gujarat Model’ has failed, who now vilify 'outsiders' for having snatched away jobs.

The much touted ‘Gujarat Model’ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party stands stripped bare once again. The migrant labour in the state fleeing in the face of a violent campaign is a grim reminder of the failure of Modi’s ‘Gujarat Model’ on both the social and the economic front.

Even though the state government is attempting to bring the situation back to the normal, the cat is out of the bag for now. Most of the labourers who have fled hail from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The irony here is that many of the same migrants fleeing today had rushed home ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha to campaign for Modi and the BJP, acting as salespersons of the very same ‘Gujarat Model’ that has let them down.

The trigger that led to the present exodus was the arrest of a migrant labourer from Bihar for the rape of a 14-month-old girl near Himmatnagar in Sabarkantha district. The incident was followed by a hate campaign against ‘par prantiya’ (outsiders) that is aimed at forcing them to go back home.

Over the last four days, thousands are said to have fled the state, mainly from North Gujarat – by trains, buses and any other mode of transport that they could find or afford. A few who have not fled but are afraid to return home are currently lodged in a camp set up by the volunteers of Uttar Bharatiya Vikas Parishad in Vastral. A majority of the incidents against the migrants have been reported from Sabarkantha, Patan, Mehsana, Gandhinagar and Aravalli districts.

Also read: After Minor’s Rape, 342 Arrested as Migrants Flee Violent Backlash in Gujarat

Virendra Singh Rajput, a volunteer at the camp, who is from Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh, told this reporter: “We are trying our best to quell the rumours that are doing the rounds. More than five dozen people at the camp are being provided both boarding and lodging facilities. We are working with the administration to instil confidence among migrants.”

The police have increased their vigil near the industrial areas where the migrants are employed and also at the settlements where they live. Gujarat’s Director General of Police Shivanand Jha on Sunday reportedly said that 342 arrests have been made in 42 cases that have been registered.

Over the last four days, thousands are said to have fled the state. Credit: Twitter

However, his claim that a large number of people have left for the ensuing festival season for Navratri, Diwali and Chhath doesn’t quite stand the scrutiny of the present circumstances. Hailing from Bihar himself, he must be aware that the labour force from north India, which is dependant on the money gained from its livelihood, leaves for home barely a few days before Diwali and Chhath, for which there is still a month to go. If this was solely the reason, why exactly have the police been compelled to register so many cases and arrest so many people?

The illusion of development 

Gujarat has reported its fair share of rapes in recent times, but this time the rape of the minor triggered an outburst of a phenomenon that has been building for years.

For years, Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah have been attempting to sell the idea of the ‘Gujarat Model’ to all of India. But in its own state, the adverse effects are clear to see – those leading the campaign against the migrants are largely local, unemployed youth that the ‘Gujarat Model’ has failed to provide opportunities to earn dignified livelihoods. Instead of directing their anger towards the government for its failure in preventing such an economic failure, the anger has been diverted towards migrants who are being vilified for taking away jobs that the locals “should be getting”.

This also points to the failure of the administration to ensure that the private enterprises that have been set up with the incentives from the government adhere to the norm of recruiting a specified percentage of local work force.

This aspect was highlighted by Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor recently when he spoke of how the government has turned a blind eye to the rule on employing 80% locals in the factories. Since then, there has been a social media campaign that has accused the MLA of inciting violence. He has categorically denied this charge and has put up a video of his media briefing on Facebook, where he says, “There was palpable anger against the incident of rape for a couple of days. Beyond that there is politics being done in my name. There is an attempt to spoil the atmosphere across Gujarat.”

According to social scientist and author Achyut Yagnik, “This is clearly the result of the failure of the economic policy of the government. It has failed to address the jobless youth. Even for the powerful Other Backward Castes (OBC) like the Thakors of which Alpesh is a leader there has been large scale joblessness.”

Paresh, a playwright and a keen social observer who lives in North Gujarat, explains the phenomenon: “When the illusion of development under the ‘Gujarat Model’ was being sold, even the small landholder sold off his land only to end up as a labourer down the line as he did not know how to utilise the money he got from the sale. With the North Indian workforce ready to work as farm labour even in the remote interiors and the perception among the middle and upper middle class that the labourers from outside are good workers, the locals have stood at the other end. With no jobs coming their way, it is their pent up anger that has found an outburst in the form of this campaign against the outsiders.”

Politics of hate

Apart from the economic failure of the ‘Gujarat Model’, the recent developments have also stemmed from the politics of hate that has been promoted in the state for the last three decades, particularly by Hindutva organisations, including the BJP. It is this politics of hate that has returned to haunt Gujarat time and again in the form of targeting minority religions, Dalits and now migrants.

“It is the politics of hate that is coming back in new shape. The fomenting of such politics began from early 1980s when an agitation for reservation was successfully converted into a communal conflict by 1985. Thereafter, between 1986-87 and 1990-92 there was a communal strife emerging from the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Mosque issue. Thereafter, it was the 2002 riots,” explains Yagnik.

The 2002 riots were preceded by anti-Christian violence in tribal areas of South Gujarat in 1998. The hate campaign continued and over the last two years it has been visible in the large number of instances of atrocities against Dalits, of which the public flogging of Dalits in Una was the epitome. Now it has come to a campaign against ‘outsiders’.

A file photo of the Una flogging incident. Credit: Twitter/Vijay Sinh Parmar

In fact, in Gujarat it has become a common understanding that in order to divert attention from the failures of the ruling party, all that is needed is the creation of a new enemy.

“If one studies history, it is evident that Gujarat has seen large-scale immigration over the last 2,000 years and all of them have assimilated in the society here. The Parsis and Sindhis are the biggest examples. But over the last several years, there has been a change in the attitude of the Gujarati middle class,” Yagnik said.

Also read: Two Years Later, Una Flogging Incident Victims Attacked Again

Clearly on the defensive, those sympathetic to the ruling dispensation – both at the Centre and in the state – have launched social media campaigns to claim that the whole issue of migrant labour fleeing is yet another attempt by the ‘paid media’ and the Left to defame Gujarat and Modi. This is a tried and tested weapon in Gujarat – when real issues are highlighted, they eventually get termed as something against ‘Gujarati Asmita’ or pride.

The dark side of the ‘Gujarat Model’ is clear to see – Gujarat stands afflicted by farm distress, joblessness and the politics of hate. This ought to be fair warning enough to those who still go on touting its many benefits blindly before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, before which such tensions are more than likely to double.

Rajeev Khanna has been a reporter for the last 23 years with special interest in Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat politics, and has worked in print, radio, TV and online media.