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Not Just the Media, Organised Politics Too Failed India's Migrant Workers

The Wire, India, 1 July 2020 - Aman Abhishek’s piece on the media during the migrant crisis in the wake of the epidemic of COVID-19 (The Wire, 25 June, ‘How the Modi Government Manufactured Public Opinion during the Migrant Crisis‘) is timely. Many good hearted journalists indeed thought that notwithstanding a definite pattern in the media coverage, the media by and large played a commendable role in bringing the “migrant question” to the public eye. In the background of such innocence bordering on glib acceptance of media’s virtues, Abhishek’s commentary underlines the need for a larger discussion on the idea of the public, and by extension mainstream politics, by which I mean, mainly formal, organised politics.

The media may have set the tone, as Abhishek’s piece shows, but this was facilitated by the strange silence of mainstream political parties who perhaps owing to lockdown restrictions hardly raised any voice in the immediate aftermath of the breakout of the migrant crisis. By the last days of March and the first fortnight of April, the severity of the crisis was evident. Reports were coming out by mid-April that migrant workers had not been paid their dues of March and were being evicted from their shelters, and they had been frantically searching for modes of transport to go back home.

Another fact of severe consternation was the staggering, immeasurable dimension of the crisis. Central trade unions and mainstream liberal and left parties took time to understand even the surface of what was happening. There was no united statement, no attempt to build a platform of solidarity, no attempt to convene an opposition chief ministers’ conclave to forge a policy on issues of health and work of the migrant workers, no concerted effort to move the judiciary, and no minimum agenda on the issue of the epidemic and migrant workers.



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