As images of the exodus of migrant workers from cities because of the 21-day lockdown went viral on social media platforms, reactions of Congress leaders on Sunday varied from outright criticism to offering concrete suggestions, with some party leaders comparing with the demonetisation.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi wrote to telcom companies like Vodafone, Airtel, Jio and BSNL to make phone calls and Internet data services free for the distressed migrant workers on ‘humanitarian grounds’.
“It’s our duty to help our countrymen in this hour of crisis. Many people going home have run out of money. They are unable to contact their families. I urge you to make the call facilities free in the relevant areas for the next one month to let them contact their families,” Ms. Vadra said in a letter to telecom companies and urged party workers to help out.
Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, in a series of tweets, argued for an immediate financial assistance plan for the poor.
“We need a financial rescue package that will transfer an additional ₹5 lakh crore to the people and put the money in their pockets. Otherwise, apart from a COVID-19 tragedy, there will be a livelihood calamity for the poor and vulnerable,” Mr. Chidambaram said.
“What are the PM and FM waiting for when a tragedy is unfolding before our eyes? Just look at the TV images of hungry children and helpless migrant workers. Has the Modi government abandoned them to their fate?” asked the former Finance Minister.
Lack of planning
At the party’s official press conference, senior spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi pointed out the lack of proper lockdown plan that had left many stranded.
Comparing the large-scale exodus of migrant workers with the displacement during the Partition, Mr. Singhvi said, “The lockdown was announced with the same haste with which demonetisation was done.”
“Did you not think about migrant workers, daily wage labourers? Because of your actions, more than 1 crore people are on the streets. How can you then talk about social distancing?” Mr. Singhvi asked.
The Congress pointed out that though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had addressed the nation on March 19 for the first time, the Centre didn’t coordinate with State governments or prepare contingency plans like community kitchen or arranging transportation.
While Mr. Singhvi cited the examples of Congress-ruled States that were providing buses for stranded people, he also complained of party workers being denied curfew passes in BJP-ruled States.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor compared the ongoing situation with the demonetisation days by juxtaposing two pictures on his Twitter handle: crowd of migrants standing in long queues to catch a bus at Delhi’s Anand Vihar and Ghaziabad’s Kaushambi bus terminals with a photo of a queue seen outside banks during demonetisation.
“Modiji why :1)For “ janata curfew “ 4 day notice For 21-day lockdown 4 hours notice. 2) No preparations in advance before lockdown. 3) Migrants , jobless walking up to 200km to reach home without food , shelter 4) Lakhs stranded on highways. Clueless and incompetent !” tweeted former Union Minister Kapil Sibal.
However, Mr. Sibal’s junior colleague and fellow Congressman Milind Deora tweeted, “Now it’s not time for petty and partisan politicking about which government responded when and how effectively. We should work unitedly with laser focus to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and treat the infected regardless of their economic background.”
“There will be time for politics and rebuilding. At that time, hopefully, we will direct our outrage at those who misled and lied to the world. Without accountability, nothing changes,” Mr. Deora added in another tweet.