The return of the voters

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Oriya workers seen returning from Surat at the Berhampur Railway Station.
Oriya workers seen returning from Surat at the Berhampur Railway Station.

In Orissa’s Ganjam district, migrant labour could tilt the scales

Recession has forced lakhs of migrant labourers back to their homes in Ganjam district of Orissa, where they could end up playing a key role in the elections.

An estimated 4.5 lakh migrant labourers from Ganjam work in the textile and gemstone industries of Surat in Gujarat. Many of these units have closed down because of the economic slowdown, leading to the workers returning to their homes.

Political leaders expect that this jobless labour force will have a major impact in the coming elections in almost all the Assembly segments of the Aska and Berhampur parliamentary constituencies. The view is that they can be lured into campaigning, for some money.

According to Loknath Mishra, who works with ‘Prabasi Sramika Surakhya Manch,’ an organisation of migrant labourers, one and a half lakh migrant labourers have already returned from Surat.

He expects another two lakh migrants to reach their homes in Ganjam district in the next few days.

It’s a common sight to see the migrants alighting in thousands at the Berhampur railway station from trains coming from Gujarat.

Sania Apata, a migrant labourer from Polasara area, says he had to return as the owner of the textile unit where he worked had closed it down for three months. He is looking forward to making some money during the election campaign.

During the 2004 Assembly polls, Bharatiya Janata Dal (BJD) leader Niranjan Pradhan managed to get the migrant labour to return and vote for him, ensuring his win from the Kodala Assembly seat. During the panchayat polls in 2007, the BJD again benefited from the votes of the migrant labourers in Ganjam district. Middlemen were used to provide these migrant labourers in Surat railway tickets to visit their homes. This time, there is no need to do so.

Dual voters

Many of these migrant labourers are dual voters as they have their names enlisted in the voter list in Surat as well as in their native villages. The State BJP Yuva Morcha president Bibhuti Jena claimed that the migrant labourers would vote for the saffron party because of their links with Gujarat. The Congress activists of the district have also started wooing the migrant labourers.

State secretariat member of the Orissa unit of the CPI (M), Ali Kishore Patnaik, who hails from Ganjam district, says although they are willing to use them for their political advantage, the major parties have not addressed the problems of the workers. The size of the migrant labour force pointed to the failure of NREGS (the government’s rural employment guarantee scheme) in the district.

The inflow has caused some worry among the police. Many of the Oriya migrant labourers have criminal records in Orissa or Surat, and their return could pose all kinds of problems.

There have been clashes in the district during the last few weeks; several migrant labourers with criminal records have been arrested.

Until now, little has been done to provide employment to these workers near their homes. As they are skilled in their textile jobs, they are reluctant to do menial work under NREGS, says Chittaranjan Dash, a senior Congress leader.

Corrections and Clarifications

An article "The return of the voters" ("Elections 2009" page, March 29,2009) said that Niranjan Pradhan is from the Bharatiya Janata Dal. It isthe Biju Janata Dal (BJD).



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