Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the biggest loser of them all?
It’s a question which is already doing the rounds of Uttar Pradesh, home to 23 Crore Indians and possibly the largest chunk of migrants on the road.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the BJP appear happy enough in having stonewalled Congress and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s gesture of offering a thousand buses to carry workers stranded at UP’s borders with Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi to their villages.
Congress supporters are blaming the state government for its lack of urgency, sensitivity and a sense of responsibility.
In the urban areas of the state, the grudging admission is that politics or no politics, there was no justification for not using the buses provided by the Congress. In the villages, they are too busy in the battle of survival to bet on who scored more brownie points.
But migrant workers are clearly the biggest losers of a stand-off that would have been comic but for the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
The AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, has been requesting the chief minister to mobilise state transport buses for the migrants on the road. UPSRTC is said to have a fleet of 12,000 buses and 22,000 drivers on its rolls.
On Saturday, May 16, when 24 migrant workers were killed in an accident at Auraiya in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress leader finally wrote to the Uttar Pradesh CM, requesting permission to mobilise 1000 buses. The permission was granted.
The very next day over 500 buses from Rajasthan reached the Uttar Pradesh border but were denied permission to enter the state. A direct appeal for permission was again made by Priyanka Gandhi on Twitter. This time the UP Government wanted a list of migrant workers who would be travelling in the buses.
The next day on May 18, thousands of migrant workers jostled with each other at Ghaziabad to register. A little before midnight, the principal secretary to the chief minister Awanish Awasthi wrote to Sandeep Singh, secretary of the Congress leader, demanding that the buses be driven to Lucknow and handed over to the state government.
When it was pointed out that it would be a waste of time, money and fuel, the CMO revised the instruction in the early morning of May 19 and asked the buses to report to the District Magistrates of Ghaziabad and NOIDA. But no permit was issued for the buses to enter UP.
Hours later, the CMO demanded that details of registration numbers, drivers, their driving license, insurance etc. be furnished first. And when the list was rushed, the efficient CMO found out in no time that only 879 of the 1049 buses in the list were roadworthy. The rest either did not have fitness certificates or the insurance had lapsed and in some cases the registration numbers were of ambulances and three-wheelers.
What does the standoff say about our politics, our leaders and about governance?
The statesmanlike stance of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra seems to infuriate BJP leaders and workers alike. When she said this was no time for politics, they accused her of political one-upmanship.
When she declared that if Yogi Adityanath wanted, he could drape the buses in BJP’s banners and posters, claim credit provided he allowed the buses to carry migrants, they felt this was politics at its worst.
If Congress could mobilise so many buses, why are migrants walking in Punjab and Rajasthan, asked BSP chief Mayawati.
The Congress leader refused to take the bait. This is no time for politics, she reiterated. If Uttar Pradesh did not want to use the buses, it was fine, she would have them sent back. But Congress workers will continue to help migrant workers to the best of their ability, she added.
These questions remain to be answered.
1. Yogi Adityanath sent buses to Kota to bring back students; why didn’t he for workers?
2. Would he have lost face if he had accepted the offer?
3. Can political parties ever work together?
4. Has the stand-off strengthened the Yogi or Priyanka Gandhi?
5. Who betrayed the workers?
No prizes for guessing the biggest loser though.