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M.P. bypolls | Chambal workers desperate for jobs

Labourers going to a local market in seaarch for job in Ratva village in Bhind district in Madhya Pradesh on October 31.   | Photo Credit: A. M. Faruqui

For 29-year-old Sonu Khatik, the byelection promise of a canal near his village in Bhind district holds little value. “What will we do with an irrigation system as we are landless and migrate for work?” he said, idling at the Ratwa village square.

At the peak of the reverse migration in May, Mr. Khatik returned from Bengaluru where he worked at a sweet shop for 14 years and made ₹9,000 a month as a confectioner. With the frequency of trains remaining low in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, he is stuck in Ratwa. “And my employer has asked me not to return for now as there is less demand,” said Mr. Khatik, who has turned to agricultural labour for ₹300 a day.

“No candidate is talking about us, the migrant workers. Our jobs are uncertain and there is no feasible transport to return to work,” said Mr. Khatik, whose two siblings, after returning from Pune during the lockdown, have also stayed back. “Why would they raise the issue? After all [due to the reverse migration], political parties have saved the expense of bringing back workers at the time of voting,” he added sarcastically.

Thousands of workers, including those who have returned from other States and are battling joblessness, are demanding that job security and provision of transport be made the top priority by candidates in the Morena constituency of the district headquarters, and Gohad constituency in Bhind district. Among those who returned during the lockdown, most have not gone back to work in other States as uncertainty due to the pandemic continues.

“Bengaluru is one of the hotspots, but it also gave me work. We are in a quandary,” said Mr. Khatik.

Four-years-ago, Shakil Shah found hope in Pune, where his neighbour Ramhit Baghel managed a pani puri stall. After acquiring hands-on experience there, he set up his own make-shift stall just recently where he made ₹300-400 a day — until the pandemic struck.

Desperate to return home, he entrusted the stall to his landlord, with whom he owed ₹28,000 in rent already. “Working on someone else’s field pays more than setting up a stall locally,” said Mr. Shah.

Of the nearly 2,000 workers who’ve returned from other States in the village, at least 200 are pani puri vendors.

“The pandemic has eaten away at the opportunity to support our families by working in cities, as there is no local employment. Still, political parties are more interested in buying over MLAs, toppling governments and trading charges over the pandemic,” said Mr. Baghel, who owned four stalls.

On the Gohad seat in the Chambal region, Congress’s Mevaram Jatav will take on two-time MLA Ranvir Jatav, who won on a Congress ticket in 2018 but in March this year switched over to the BJP along with Jyotiraditya Scindia and 21 other legislators. The Congress has won thrice from the seat and the BJP five times. Three-time MLA from BJP Lal Singh Arya lost to Mr. Ranvir in the previous election by 23,989 votes.

At Rui ki Mandi in Morena, daily-wage workers, who begin arriving every morning at 7.30 a.m. to find work, point out that both the parties are engaged in only exchanging barbs and are not even mentioning local issues.

“The Congress is interested in only calling out the betrayal of its former MLAs, while the BJP is describing supposed ill practices of the 15-month Congress government. What about alleviating the crushing effects of the lockdown, especially on workers,” asked Rakesh Jatav, a worker, who was employed at a garments store before the lockdown.

As more workers were looking for local employment, he added, wage rates had fallen to ₹250-300 a day from ₹300-400 earlier. “Political parties have been promising voters fertile land in the ravines of Chambal but to no avail,” said Keshav Baghel, who’s making ₹300 a day harvesting millets.

On the Morena seat in the Chambal region, Congress’s Rakesh Mavai is up against first time MLA Raghuraj Singh Kansana, a BJP candidate and supporter of Mr. Scindia who won on a Congress ticket but resigned. The Congress has won the seat four times, while the BJP five times.

Both the BJP and the Congress have promised to develop industries along the Chambal expressway to generate local employment. The Congress has further said it would formulate a policy for land use in the interest of landless workers by converting Chambal ravines and barren lands into cultivable ones.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 4:26:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/madhya-pradesh-byelections-in-desperate-chambal-plight-of-migrant-workers-ignored/article32992035.ece

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