Prashant Dayal, Ahmedabad: Ever since the state has been hit by an exodus of migrants, a few friends of mine inquired if there is any sort of politics involved behind all the happenings. I told them that this is not politics helmed by some party, but there is a larger picture one fails to see. There is no stuff in the talk that the anger against migrants across the state have stemmed from the crime committed by a migrant in some remote village in Sabarkantha. That incident was just a trigger which opened the floodgates of rage against the migrant community. The seed of this anti-migrant stance was sown long back. This rage that we see today is something that has been simmering over a long time, a fact that sociologists and leaders failed to get a grasp on.
Before 1960, Gujarat and Maharashtra were one state and later split into two. Thousands of Marathis preferred to stay back in Vadodara, while lakhs of Gujaratis chose Mumbai and several other cities of Maharashtra. Gujaratis didn’t wish to leave behind their businesses in Maharashtra. Gujaratis and Marathis would own shops next to each other in the same lane, but the business of Gujaratis always prospered, given business runs in their blood. This gave birth to the thoughts in Marathi people’s minds that Gujaratis are earning way more than them despite not belonging to Maharashtra.
The seeds of jealousy were sown in the minds of Marathis and as a result, the Shiv Sena played on the emotions of the Marathi people for their personal gains and campaigned to drive the Gujaratis out of Maharashtra. Similarly, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena too played the same cards as Shiv Sena, claiming that the migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are stealing jobs deserved by the locals, the Marathi Manoos.
The anti-migrant wave raging in Gujarat draws similarities from the one that was raging in Mumbai until a few years ago. I live in Navrangpura, Ahmedabad. There is a long line of fruit juice vendors on the street outside my house, and most of them I believe are from Uttar Pradesh. These vendors, who set up their juice selling business about fifteen years ago, are normally addressed as Bhaiyyaji, a term that is supposed to be a respectable word to address someone, but it is not. As a matter of fact, this term is used in a derogatory manner against the migrant community from North India. These vendors had left their families and homes and arrived in this city many years ago, to do business. They lived in rented shanties, which they use only to retire for the night.
One such vendor, who worked hard from seven in the morning to 12 in the night, saw his business prosper and his financial condition improve. He has now bought a house of his own; he brought his family to live with him here, sent his children to study in the schools here and even bought a car. This prosperity of the migrant didn’t go down well with the Gujarati neighbor next door. The Gujarati neighbor began to wonder that this migrant, who came all the way from UP-Bihar has earned so much money, while I couldn’t. The neighbor doesn’t realize that he himself is responsible for his own plight. The Gujarati never worked as hard as the migrant person had to do because he already had a roof over his head and the surety of a square meal daily.
This Bhaiyyaji, when he came to Gujarat, he used to live with ten other fellow migrants in a shanty. He would send back maximum possible money home after taking care of his bare minimum expenditure here. For this migrant, hard work had no options and used to work eighteen hours a day because every day was about survival. Those working in the factories of Gujarat, were the favorites of their Gujarati bosses, because the migrant worker works hard, while the Gujarati worker in the same factory would try to dictate rules and regulations to and work limited hours. So, the sentiment harbored by the Marathis in Mumbai that these Bhaiyyajis are taking away their jobs could be seen in Gujaratis too now. Many of these migrants in the state are the second or third generation of their families.
The places where the anti-migrant wave is rampant are the villages and rural belts of Gujarat. Where the local youth, who whiled the time away at pan-shops and sold their father’s land instead of working in them, are now up in arms against the migrant families that have prospered amongst them with their sheer hard work. These unemployed youth took it as an insult that an outsider is earning way more money than him, a local. Just like the Shiv Sena and the MNS took to streets, driving away the Bhaiyyajis from their state, self-proclaimed community leader with a narrow mindset, Alpesh Thakor and other political leaders accused the outsiders of hampering the growth of the locals and decided to throw them out of the state.
The fire of jealousy was already burning; all the leaders had to do was blow air to it.