Following PM Modi’s announcement that the 21-days nationwide coronavirus lockdown has extended for another 19 days till May 3, a raft of migrant workers gathered at a mosque outside Bandra local station in Mumbai demanding to go back home, giving rise to yet another crisis in Maharashtra. Crowds swelled by the thousands at Ahle Sunnat Sunni Raza Jama Masjid near Bandra station in their bid to go to their respective home states.
However, soon after thousands gathered at the mosque nearby Bandra local station, potentially sabotaging the state’s fight against the highly contagious disease COVID-19, Aaditya Thackeray, son of Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, took to Twitter, to deflect the blame of his government’s incompetence in providing provisions to the migrant workers on to the central government.
Right from the day the trains have been shut down, the State had requested trains to run for 24 hours more so that migrant labour could go back home.— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) April 14, 2020
CM Uddhav Thackeray ji raised this issue in the PM- CM Video Conf as well requesting a roadmap for migrant labour to reach home
Thackeray tweeted that the Union government is to be blamed for the situation that erupted at the Bandra local station. He claimed that the central government has been unable to arrange for a means for the migrant workers to travel back home, adding that the migrant workers in Mumbai don’t want food or shelter and that they only want to go back.
The junior Thackeray also claimed that the Maharashtra state government had asked the centre to allow the trains to run for 24 hours after passenger railway services were suspended to facilitate the migrant labours’ travel back to their homes.
However, Twitter users did not seem persuaded by Thackeray’s abject explanation. Many users pointed out how Uddhav Thackeray had assured migrant labours that all help will be extended to them and asked them to not leave Maharashtra. Others smelled a deliberate conspiracy behind the gathering of a large number of migrant labours suddenly at the Bandra station.
Columnist Shefali Vaidya, conjectured how the migrant workers did not flock to the Bandra station in the last 5 days when the Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray had announced the extension of the lockdown but suddenly after PM Modi made the announcement, thousands assembled at the mosque nearby the Bandra station demanding they be allowed to travel back to their native places.
So @OfficeofUT extends Maharashtra lockdown till 30th April, 5 days before @narendramodi does. No crowds gather in 5 days. Suddenly, after Modiji’s speech a massive crowd gathers at Bandra mosque in a matter of minutes. How? @AUThackeray then promptly blames central govt!— Shefali Vaidya. (@ShefVaidya) April 14, 2020
Another Twitter user shared a screenshot of a report published in Financial Express in which Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray claims that he would provide all the assistance to migrant workers living in Mumbai and dissuaded them from leaving the city amidst coronavirus lockdown. Casting aspersions on Aaditya Thackeray, the Twitter user questioned how did the junior Thackeray conclude that the massive gathering outside the Bandra local station and not Bandra Terminus(from where the trains ply to other parts of the country) were of migrant labours.
Also, nobody in any video of Bandra incident seems to be carrying any bags. They had gathered outside Bandra local station (near single source prayer building), not Bandra Terminus. How did Penguin conclude that they’re migrant labourers?— Prevention is cure than betterness (@attomeybharti) April 14, 2020
Ankur Singh, a popular Twitter user, highlighted the glaring hypocrisy in the multiple claims made by Aaditya Thackeray amidst the migrant crisis in Bandra and Mumbra. Singh shared two contrasting tweets by Aaditya Thackeray to assert how he is being disingenuous in blaming the central government of the migrant crisis in Mumbai. On 29 March, 2020, Aaditya had posted a tweet saying that his father’s government had constantly endeavoured to stop the migration and provide them with proper aid and assistance. However, today Thackeray claimed that right from the day the passenger rail services were suspended, Uddhav Thackeray had been requesting the Prime Minister to allow their services for 24 hours for migrants to return home.
This incident in Bandra, where thousands of migrant labours gathered to go back home bears a stark resemblance to the migrant crisis in Delhi where despite extensive lockdown imposed in the national capital, migrants, in thousands, reached the Uttar Pradesh border and jeopardised the country’s battle against the coronavirus. It was later alleged that the state government in Delhi had fanned fears among the migrant workers by spreading rumours and lies. It was alleged that Arvind Kejriwal government had allegedly spread the rumour that buses have been waiting at the UP borders to take them to their respective households. This impelled the mass exodus of these migrant labourers, now camping at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, in an attempt to return to their respective villages.
Questions that the Maharashtra government must answer about the migrant crisis in Bandra and Mumbra
There are certain questions that emerge that the Uddhav Thackeray led Maharashtra government must answer regarding the migrant crisis in Bandra and Mumbra.
- Why did the migrant crowd gather outside the local station and not Bandra Terminus if it indeed wanted to return home?
- Since Uddhav Thackeray had already extended the lockdown period for two weeks, three days ago, then how can his government now blame the Modi government?
- When Thackeray had assured all assistance to migrant labours 2 weeks ago and even congratulated itself for its handling of the situation, how did the situation spiral out of control only today?
- How did a similar crowd gather at Mumbra where there is no such long route train connectivity?
- Is this narrative being spun simply to shift focus from the abysmal handling of Coronavirus in Maharashtra and blame the central government?
It is also pertinent to note that Maharashtra has been the worst-affected state by the coronavirus crisis, topping the list of states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country. The state’s capital, Mumbai, has emerged as a hotbed for the virus, which has registered more than 1500 cases from the state total of 2300. In such a scenario, the gathering of thousands of migrant worker at a mosque outside Bandra local station, in defiance to the lockdown restrictions, could further exacerbate the coronavirus crisis in the city.