Where part is more than the whole! Corona or No-Corona

Bhaskar Majumder

Power exists means power is acknowledged. Power is legitimized by exercise of power. Power is an abstraction – hence, it needs to be activated. First, where is the space or the agent where it can be activated? Second, who are the enemies – in case an enemy does not exist, it can be discovered and the nearest potential challenger of the authority is the best enemy. World history shows it by cold war and all.

In India’s myth/mythology, Maa Manasaa (Goddess of snakes) got puja from all her devotees – it was fear, for snakes! But Maa Manasaa was happy sub-optimally for the merchant Chand Sadaagar declined to perform her puja – Chand was not really at fault for he was a full-time devotee of Sulpaani (God of destruction). Chand had to pay a heavy price for this audacity not to bow down to Maa Manasaa – even the iron-room built by Viswakarma (God of Architecture) could not save his son from snake-biting for allegedly Viswakarma was bribed. Ultimately, Behula had to dance in front of the Gods in heaven to bring back life in her husband’s (that is Chand’s son) body.

Let me come back to current India now. It is the Ministry of Home Affairs vis-a-vis the state of West Bengal. The context is the caging-confinement of migrant workers at a number of destinations that continued contrary to what the workers tried to do – Ghar Wapsi. On May 08, 2020 around 16 migrant workers were crushed under the wheels of a good train while sleeping on the track after a long march to come back home. The migrants, aged between 20 and 35 years, were workers from Umarya and Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh and used to work for a company in Jalna, Maharashtra. As reported by the survivors in trauma, the workers left Jalna at around seven pm. Initially, up to Badnapore, they walked on the highway. Later, they started walking on the tracks towards Aurangabad. After walking for about 36 km, they sat down on the tracks to rest and fell asleep.

Railway track was thought safe probably by these workers-warriors that included women and children for there were no policing to baton them. Probably the innocent migrant workers thought no train would come along the track. Also, the tracks being linear, it becomes easy for people in “linear model’’ to follow it. It was Corona season 2019/2020 – season of fear. The Government of India had to respond for its hands became blood-stained. What could have been done at the moment? The following:

First, declare money-compensation to the relatives of the victims.

Second, do post-mortem and send back the mortal remains of the workers to their homes.

Third, set up Inquiry committee to submit report for the cause of death.

Fourth, pending the above, divert the attention of the civil society.

It is around the fourth point that the state of West Bengal came in. The Heavyweight Minister of the Home Ministry alleged on 9th May, 2020 that the West Bengal government was defiant – not allowing trains with migrant workers to reach the state that may further create hardship for the labourers and that it was injustice. As reported, the Government of India sent back most of the migrant workers to their home-state. It seemed; West Bengal was the state in exception.

This allegation is nothing new – West Bengal had a long-term agony particularly since 1943 Bengal Famine reinforced by 1947 Partition and influx of refugees. Bengal also generated problems infinite for the rest of India to walk on two legs – one leg of West Bengal and the other leg of the rest of India. It seemed often that West Bengal was a different Republic. So the whole (rest of India) accusing the part (West Bengal) is not surprising also. Now, what to do?

The workers who migrated out from West Bengal were eager to come back to the home-state that was what the Home Ministry kindly informed being of course convinced after 40+ days of lockdown. The Government arranged Shramik special trains for these workers. But the government of West Bengal was not allowing these trains to enter the state, as reported by the Ministry. The letter of request from the Ministry to the CM, West Bengal is yet to be made public.

As I understand based on incomplete data that the migrant workers are inside the Shramik train compartments – but how long? Who is feeding them for by 40+ days they exhausted their wages earned? Also the socio-economic stratification of these migrant workers of West Bengal origin is unknown.

I had the idea that the whole is more than and different from its parts. I assume that West Bengal is an integral part of India the whole. If agreed upon, then it becomes a compulsion for the state of West Bengal to welcome the migrants back. The other interpretation could have been that West Bengal government would allow the migrants to enter the state but not the Shramik train. After all, it is not a communist government: so, why Shramik tag?    Both need clarification from the government of West Bengal for the accusation from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India is serious.

It seems the migrant workers got sandwiched between the central government and the state government – a new kind of error reflected in federal relations post-Sarkaria Commission report. Labour issue as such was not there for Corona was not there and labour locking was not there. It is even more than a naive relation for now, in sophisticated language, the stakeholders are more than two – it involves two states and the centre – two states are the root and the destination. But unlike liquid (river water) or liquidity (finance-money), it is now migrant workers with a human face. Who would share them over prolonged period – for they are now expendable post-Corona, 2019/2020?

Hence, pending all committee/commission reports, if an enemy can be singled out, that may strengthen the power where to hit – and hit when the iron is hot. Or, is it like give the enemy (dog) a bad name before power (you) hang it? Whatever it is, West Bengal has proved again that it is a state in exception, though it did not claim it.

Personally I have some sympathy for West Bengal also – it has been facing hydra-crises post-Corona like being singled out often pre-mature by central expert committees, history of communism, public enthusiasm and latest, but not the last one, allegations of obstruction. Time may be the best healer.   

Apology: I have full faith in the federal structure of India.  

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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May 10, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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