WHY West Bengal Unwilling to get back her Migrants: Data, Details & Derivation of Reasons

This article aims at presenting an analytical & speculative overview of the probable causes of West Bengal Government’s apparent unwillingness to bring back the State’s Migrant labourers. Reading it up to the end would perhaps expand the horizon of the reader to enable him seeing a wider perspective of WB’s political picture. Identification of inter-relationship between different apparently isolated events happening in succession in West Bengal would also perhaps be possible.

Political hype reached a new height regarding West Bengal’s reluctance of getting her Migrant labourers back home. The State is known for sending a huge number of labourers to other States of India who predominantly work in the unorganized sector. According to Census 2011, 1.8 crores of Bengali speaking persons stay outside West Bengal which is 19% of total number of Bengali speaking persons in India. If we assume at least one third of this population are Migrant workers, then the number rounds up to around 50 lacs or even more as 9 years have already passed since last Census. While all the States have now been pro-active to get their Migrant workers back home & availing Shramik Trains’ services of Indian Railways, West Bengal is expressly unwilling to bring back her Migrants.

As per media report of 3rd May, West Bengal brought back 3400 of its students stationed in different other States including Kota, Rajasthan. Quickly after that, reports floated up that West Bengal brought back the State’s pilgrims from Ajmer Sharif but didn’t initiate to bring back her pilgrims from Dwarka. Communal angle of this disparity was drawn by people. It needs to be mentioned here that West Bengal, now, is a hotbed of Communal Politics as the Chief Minister openly expressed a particular community to be her milch cattles & she’s ready to tolerate even if they kicked hard.

Illustration by : Sirsha Acharya

Against allegations, WB Home Secretary, Alapan Bandopadhyay said on 9th May that the State was taking sufficient steps to bring back its Migrants & brought back 6000 of them till 9th May including students, pilgrims, labourers & patients. This statement stirred up further controversies as out of these 6000, 3400 were students (which has already been mentioned earlier) & they were brought back by bus. This implied that the rest 2600 persons included pilgrims & patients too as reported by the State’s Home Department. This was substantiated by WB CM’s tweet on May 3 where she mentioned that WB arranged two special trains from Rajasthan & Kerala carrying 2500 pilgrims, students, labourers & patients. Hence, questions naturally came up how many labourers did WB at all bring back? Wasn’t the number very tiny in comparison to huge actual number of the State’s Migrants? They left WB as they didn’t find scopes of employment here.

Controversies rose to a new height when on 9th May, West Bengal claimed that the State was arranging 8 more trains to bring back her Migrants after Home Minister Amit Shah wrote a strong letter to WB CM that West Bengal wasn’t allowing trains carrying the State’s Migrants to enter West Bengal. Shah also hinted that if WB didn’t arrange to get her Migrants back, their conditions might deteriorate. Political blame game started hereafter as TMC MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, Abhishek Banerjee & Derek O’Brien launched scathing attack towards Home Minister claiming that Shah was telling lies as WB already arranged 8 trains (3 from Karnataka, 2 each from Punjab and Tamil Nadu, and 1 from Telangana) to bring back WB’s stranded people to the State over next few days. They also said one train was already scheduled to start at 3 pm on May 9 itself from Hyderabad to Maldah.

However, by the media, such claims of West Bengal was reported to be false. TOI reported “…railway officials on Saturday said there was no proposal on record so far with the national transporter to run any more ‘Shramik Special‘ trains to the state.

…reaction came minutes after the TMC said they have already planned to run eight trains to ferry migrants from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Telangana.”

NDTV wrote “Clarity is missing on the exact number of trains that will be bringing migrants back in the next few days because of the state’s intervention. According to sources, Maharashtra had to cancel two trains because the Bengal government did not respond to its letters seeking the “destination state’s consent“, which is mandatory.”

Several other media too reported West Bengal’s claim to be false. However, after Home Minister’s stricture & political slugfest, West Bengal was heard to have arranged for 8 Shramik Special trains. BJP MP tried to take the credit claiming that Amit Shah’s intervention got it done. However, Shah wrote to WB CM after opposition leader Adhir Chowdhury complained to him that WB CM was deliberately preventing migrants’ return.

Just a day after, on May 10, some kind of conflict began in Telinipara, Hooghly that soon turned into a communal mayhem. How? Sources reported that a number of people who were brought back by West Bengal from Ajmer Sharif were tested Covid positive & State Authorities wanted to quarantine them & their contacts. This gave rise to grave discontent amongst them & they refused to be quarantined. Local authorities, however, barricaded their area. In the evening, when it was raining heavily, a particular community broke away those barricades & attacked the adjacent Hindus whose area was not within the barricade. The attackers’ frustration was rooted to the fact that only they were coming Covid positive and not the Hindus. WB Govt tried to control the riot & took several coercive measures for that.

Reading up to this, one can understand that Telinipara Riot was indirectly linked to Migrants’ return from Ajmer Sharif & its COVID consequences. State of West Bengal perhaps anticipates more such issues if it brings back her migrants.

After four days of Telinipara Riot, on May 14, West Bengal CM declared that the State planned to bring 105 more Shramik Trains to West Bengal for getting her Migrants back. Fresh political arguments hyped up as Rail Minister Piyush Goyal alleged West Bengal to use much lesser number of trains than what the State truly required. Minister Railways said that while there is a need for 105 trains per day to bring back migrants to WB, the State is accepting only 105 trains over 30 days.

Minister Railways said 105 trains per day need to travel towards West Bengal to get all Migrants back. Hence, 105 trains in 30 days is a miniscule fraction of that. This comment of Goyal is in congruence with the huge number of labourers, that West Bengal exports to various parts of India. Each Shramik Train carries 1700 persons. Hence, 105 such trains would carry a maximum of 1,78,500 labourers over 30 days as per WB Govt’s announcement while total number of Migrants is expected to be around more than 50 lacs (estimation given above).

However, what could be the real reason why WB is skeptical & unusually sluggish to bring back the State’s migrants? There are a number of major, politically motivated reasons behind it.

  1. West Bengal doesn’t have proper infrastructure to quarantine & subsequently treat these labourers if they come out to be COVID positive. West Bengal’s population density is perhaps the highest in India at this moment. However, its health infrastructure with respect to that is direly insufficient & awfully inferior. Under such circumstances, if all migrants come back to State, State have no infra to quarantine them. Moreover, labourers of a particular community might not co-operate with the State Authorities to be quarantined or hospitalized if need be(example: Telinipara). That may give rise to more Telinipara like incidents in various parts of WB which would create a law n order crisis all over & thus aggravate the pandemic crisis further. West Bengal’s demography throws a significant challenge to the State’s administration. This is perhaps one of the real reasons why West Bengal is unwilling & extraordinarily slow in bringing the migrants back.
  2. Another more intricate reason is— all migrants who are boarding the Shramik Special Trains, would have their data registered with Railways cross tallied with the State Government. Please note, for Shramik Trains to depart from a place, destination State’s consent is required. Hence, those who’d come back by such Trains to West Bengal, would get officially registered as migrant labourers from WB in GOI data records through Railways. These migrants, henceforth, would be traceable even by GOI which WB CM does not perhaps want. Why? Because migrant labourers from West Bengal were her dedicated vote bank which would never be accessible by the opposition parties. Why? The open secret is that the voter cards of many of these migrants unofficially remain in the custody of local TMC leaders. Even if those migrants do not remain present in the State during Elections, their votes be casted by TMC people. That’s an open secret of the State. (This is the probable reason why voting percentage in West Bengal in Elections is always much higher than that in maximum other States. Many votes are not casted by the real voters but by rigging personnel.) Hence, it is beneficial for Mamata to keep the State’s migrants as ghosts with their identity data shared with none. Bringing them back by Shramik Special Trains would indirectly pass on the migrants data to GOI & thus unveiling their true identity. Clearer be the identities of these ghosts, wider opens the Pandora’s box of Mamata’s vote bank. This is perhaps the other major reason why WB Govt doesn’t want to bring back migrants. She perhaps wants to keep her vote bank a secret.
  3. The most striking reason is that a significant proportion of West Bengal’s migrant labourers are voters of West Bengal but they are Bangladeshis in reality. WB CM does not want to expose that under any circumstances. That is the most probable reason why she’s opposing NPR & NRC tooth n nail. If these migrants come back to West Bengal by Shramik Special Trains, their identity data would be exposed & available with GOI. However, though these migrants have voter cards of WB, they are Bangladeshis. For all practical purposes, addresses given in their voter cards are fictitious & probably the persons never stayed in those addresses. The addresses given are someone else’s & the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are given his Indian documents just using those addresses. Such Bangladeshis are known to be WB CM’s core vote bank whose identity data she cannot afford to share with GOI. Her rebellious recalcitrance against the Constitutional guidelines is perhaps based on this vote bank. These Bangladeshis don’t stay in West Bengal but enter India through this State & migrate to different corners of the country. West Bengal Govt has to take no responsibility of these migrants in terms of arranging for their stay & ration etc, but the ruling party gets their vote support. How? It has been discussed above that many of the voter cards of West Bengal’s migrants remain in unofficial custody of local TMC leaders who arrange to cast their votes.

It may be recalled that in February, this year, 22 Bangladeshis had been arrested for illegally staying in Palghar, Maharashtra where Akhara Sadhus were lynched to death. As per social theorist Ashis Nandy, “Bengal, incidentally, is one of the biggest suppliers of labour to Maharashtra”, reported Times of India in June, 2018. WB CM, hence, would perhaps not want to bring back these migrants as she can’t provide for their stay & living. The State doesn’t have requisite infra.

It may also be mentioned here that as per a joint study conducted by International Centre For Research on Women, ICRW & UNICEF, Murshidabad district of West Bengal exports a very large number of migrants, both males & females. Murshidabad being a Muslim-majority border district, illegal immigration through Murshidabad is also stupendously high. These migrants’ are strengthening West Bengal’s ruling party’s vote bank but weakening India. Home Minister Amit Shah once upon a time referred to these people as ‘termites’.

Non-exposure of identities of these illegal immigrant voters is the 3rd & most important objective of WB CM seemingly for which she’s unwilling to bring back Migrants. It may be recalled in this context that 2 Shramik Special Trains carrying West Bengal’s migrants could not leave Maharashtra as West Bengal didn’t issue its consent & the trains had to be cancelled. Devendra Fadnabis requested WB CM to please kindly allow WB migrants to leave Maharashtra for Bengal. But WB Govt didn’t pay heed to him. The reason thereof has perhaps been clear why WB is unwilling & broadly non-cooperative with other States to bring back WB’s migrants.

Debjani Bhattacharyya

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