C. P. Surendran
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- India is in a unique situation because of the attendant poverty factor. Primarily thanks to the lockdown, announced by prime minister Narendra Modi in good time, the COVID death toll at a little over 3400 compares well with the figures in the West, which is tens of thousands. But, ironically, it is the lockdown that has put at risk the lives of millions of daily wage workers and their families as they reverse-migrate from the big cities where they work. There are no exact figures available for those who have died of starvation and exhaustion. Nearly a hundred have been killed in road and rail accidents alone. Thousands are still on the road. Social media is awash with tears and angst of the middle class flagellating themselves over the tragedy — though it is hard to imagine them skipping a meal in contrition. But the point they make is well taken. The virus has served, as never before, to underline the shocking poverty of the country.
- There is any number of images of men pulling makeshift carts with their wife and kids squatting in it, across hundreds of kilometres; of children trekking vast distances and falling dead; of women lugging trolley bags with their kids asleep on top. The Modi government pressed trains and buses in their service. And thousands have travelled home by these means. But many have hit the road before the services were made available. Many, too, have no means to arrive at stations from where they stay, and so decided to walk. It is 40C in the shade here and climbing. Drinking water is hard to come by out on the road. And the open sandals that most wears do not help in long treks.
- On May 12, Modi addressed the nation, announcing a Rs20 lakh crore package to stimulate the economy. Ever confident, he said COVID was a challenge and an opportunity. He promised a new India. One could have wept out of hope and despair. [...] The fact is that Modi’s speech was little more than a regurgitation of his stock vision — which coincides with the Indian middle class’s (left or right) dream of a modern India, good roads, good jobs, good patriots; An America with booming Vedic Chants. [...] Not much of it is likely to trickle down to the long-marchers. Clearly, the thing to do is to build rural India, so that if the workers want to migrate to the cities, it will be out of choice. For the present, if the ragged millions in their despair continue to flee the urban India of Modi’s dream and trek the melting roads in broken sandals, one must conclude that little has changed since Mahatma Gandhi led the country to freedom in 1947.