25 Crore Republics – Make India or Break India?

Bhaskar Majumder

India is a 130 crore population means 25 crore families approximately – all home-locked since March 25, 2020 for Corona 2019/2020. People obeyed it, with minor aberrations. Liquor shops had been opened in-between but now liquor is reaching respective homes, particularly in Punjab and Maharashtra. In Bihar liquor is banned; so is in Gujarat probably. This is Angreji Sarab – poor people might have had their Deshi Sarab (country liquor). Meanwhile Covid curve was decided to flatten – common people hardly understand curves. At the first phase, people were seen standing on queue in front of butcher’s shops imagining Corona as a temporary phenomenon like political Bandh that West Bengal people were accustomed to experience since the beginning of long-term left rule in 1978. Now a different set of experts opining the Covid curve is not flattening. What do we, the people of India, do?

Let me first declare that it is not economist’s monopoly job whatever be their competence in calculating the cardinal numbers on population affected by Covid or number of death by migrant and non-migrant, by Corona virus or co-morbidity. Of course, economists may guide or misguide to show the roadmap where, when and how money is to be spent or transferred. The task is more of the civil society as non-state actors to show the path to the state where, when and how.

So far, BUP (Bihar-UP) are far behind Maharashtra-Gujarat-West Bengal in terms of the relevant indicators. However, the process has started in Bihar – accusing the actual and would-be victims – for the migrants have partially succeeded in Ghar Wapsi which some of the advanced thinkers have termed reverse migration, after go-slow attitude of the Government of Bihar. I decline to accuse the Government of Bihar for it seems not capacitated to engage this population in millions within Bihar. It cannot re-export also to other states on the border immediately like West Bengal, Jharkhand and UP. The target destinations are themselves worker-exporting or outmigration states.

Bihar is always notorious in outmigration – now Shramik special trains have been arranged post 40+ days of lockdown and migrant Biharis are coming back from the in-migration states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Though the testing rate is lowest in Bihar, it has started showing escalation in persons affected that may spread to any extent. The government of Bihar got to know from over 8,000 panchayats in the state that about 20 lakh migrant workers from outside are likely to reach Bihar after mid-May, 2020. No doubt, not only the Ghar Wapsi population but also the non-migrants would be affected. It is a different question that common people hardly get medically tested in Bihar or most of the regions of India – either they live or they die – no medical intervention in between.

Bordering West Bengal has its own additional crisis – Amphan – that was hardly displayed in national media. While Biharis are looked down upon – and mostly by UP for reasons not clear, West Bengal is not tolerated for reasons not clear. Post-Amphan 20.5.2020 people in West Bengal got double shocks – one Corona and one Amphan – with public utilities like electricity and water supply gone that led to public outrage in the sub-urban areas of Kolkata that obviously violated social distancing or violated the advice of the heavyweight minister to remain home-locked. For many families, home itself no more existed!  If these are so – psychologically speaking – then I doubt national integration. Formally there is a federal structure, of course. But people live like Biharis and Bengalis mostly for weak linguistic-cultural links. The problem cannot be sidelined as a reflection of sub-national identity.

If Bihar is a state in regret, West Bengal is a state in exception – east of India seems a waste – unlike the west. The CM of West Bengal on the east asked the Railway Ministry of the Government of India not to send Shramik Special trains to the state till May 26 in view of Super Cyclone Amphan that came uninvited on May 20 causing irreparable damage to the private and public utilities of the state that would engage the public administration. Earlier the MHA alleged that West Bengal was not allowing its migrants to come back to the state. Later, it was decided that the consent of the destination state was not required to operate the Shramik special trains. So the problems remain for the state in exception or, as many in rest of India opine, West Bengal Republics.

At this stage I shall not deal with another state in exception – Kerala. Kerala supplied a model on Corona-care but it remained unsold for absence of any buyer. Who would have bought communism with care? While I had been realizing that India lived in many centuries, I have now reasons to believe that India lives in many regions – call it Coastal, Himalayan, Heartland, Communist and all that. Even then India is one – to quote Ravindranath Tagore: “Nana Bhasha, Nana Mat, nana parishan, ....Milana Mahan’’ (Unity in Diversity).   

Now coming to the core point – it is lockdown season and families are home-locked. Pending the data from Census 2021, one can assume India is the abode of 25 crore families in 2020. Many theses have been written on this by now and many are in progress – that lockdown helped people by occurrences of lesser number of deaths the mathematics that I fail to understand. Or that the Covid curve is flattening and all that rubbish. Ask any of the migrant workers or any family who lost his home, he will give different answer or will sob. Sometimes human misery finds no voice – the question is not voice is not heard – the point is absence of voice.

My contention is, if India seen as people come to be seen only as families that are nuclear by now, time may not be far away when the individual will be the unit of analysis – the individual who will always be in fear how to remain safe or distanced from fear – social distancing may lead to family distancing. Socialization that constituted India’s civilization is Corona-crashed to give birth to 25 crore Republics – day may not be distanced when it will be 130 crore Republics. One more point here – home needs to be built at least equal to 25 crore to keep families home-locked for I understood from multiple sources that many migrant families were forced to go back from inter-state border to their home that was always open-door under the flyover in the capital city of India. Thus the republics show a range of homes from road divider or space under flyover to castles of unlimited rupee count. Ravindra Nath may sob from the heaven to find “Milana Mahan’’.  

Being home-locked since end-March 2020, I failed to visit the states and localities and meet people. Whatever I have been penning are based on information received through electronic media, print media and telephonic conversations with the common people including a few migrant workers. What I understand is Ghar Wapsi migrants cannot be stopped from being really home-locked rather than past indefinite destination-locked. For West Bengal where home is lost for Amphan, home is to be immediately re-built by the state to enable them to be re-home-locked. But the end has to be definite. I understated this period of living home-locked cannot be future indefinite – it will get unlocked unless it is planned to be unlocked by time planning per day/month. Otherwise another disaster is imminent – psychological.

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

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May 27, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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