By K R Sudhaman
Whenever joblessness arises, parochial issues like migrant labour raise their ugly head in different parts of the country. Be it the attack on South Indians in Mumbai in the 1960s by the late Bal Thackeray-led Shiv Sainiks, or on UP bhaias and Biharis in 2000s.
Migration has always taken place in India as market forces operate in job market and movement of workforce takes place accordingly. The locals, who are generally laidback because of better security, do not want to take menial jobs, if avoidable. As they move up the social ladder due to education, locals prefer white-collar work to keep up with joneses, resulting in migrant workers from poorer states taking up the daily wage jobs.
As Brahmins started moving out of Tamil Nadu, other Indian cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata became favoured destinations, with Dravidian politicians hounding them out. Their vacuum was filled by non-Brahmin Malayalees in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s and 70s, as Dravidian parties felt they were one amongst them. With the advent of Gulf jobs, lot of workers, particularly in the construction industry, moved out of Kerala and that vacuum was filled by workers from Tamil Nadu. Workers from Karnataka and the then Andhra Pradesh filled up the vacancies in Tamil Nadu.
Subsequently, Tamil workers too started migrating to Southeast Asia, the Gulf and elsewhere and people from Andhra and Karnataka too started gradually going abroad. This resulted in huge shortage of workforce in South India, which was industrializing rapidly since liberalization of the economy in 1991. Today, there is hardly any local construction labour available in South India. Take any major project, including metro rail, airports, ports, highways in South India, the construction workers are mostly from Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Assam and some from West Bengal and other northeastern states.
Many in Tamil Nadu speak or understand Hindi and North Indians today do not consider their lack knowledge in Tamil as a handicap. Many North Indian workers too have picked up Tamil. Migrant workers dominate construction industry in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Kochi, Coimbatore and other cities in South India. The restaurant boys and girls in Chennai are no longer Tamils, Malayalees, Telugu and Kannadigas. Now, one finds only Nepalis and Northeast people as restaurant servers in Chennai.
Usually, there is not much of a problem when the economy is doing well and demand for workers is high. There are reports suggesting that plane-load of construction workers were brought from Odisha, when there was a shortage during Covid.
But the issue gets blown out of proportion, when local politicians, especially from regional parties, create narratives, mostly negative on migrant workers, particularly at the time of elections. Just as all South Indians were derogatorily known as ‘Madrasis’ in the North, all from the North are referred to as panipuriwallahs in the South. In fact, one DMK leader was accused of calling a migrant worker as a panipuriwallah during a recent stand-off.
Such issue surfaces first in cities and then spreads elsewhere, subsiding once regional parties succeed in getting some political mileage. This is really unfortunate because those who are targeted are poor workers, who go to far-off places from their home in search of decent livelihood, that too mostly at subsistence level.
Be it Shiv Sena, DMK or other parties, the politicians will not attack the rich migrants but only the poor, who have no help or any place to go. These parties also have the ability to switch-off and switch-on the issue whenever the need arises. These issues get more pronounced when in opposition. When these parties come to power, the issue is brushed under the carpet only to be resurrected when the need arises. Local thugs, who are supporters of these parties, will invariably catch hold of poor migrant workers or some poor brahminarchaka for harassment. But they will not touch rich North Indians or Brahmins, who are in good jobs or rich business with some political clout.
Even late M Karunanidhi of DMK used to regularly spearhead anti-Hindi, anti-Brahmin and anti-North Indian agitations, held a “Bada Khana” for 5000 North Indian construction workers, who built his pet project, Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly building in 2010. The building was subsequently converted into a top hospital when late Jayalalithaa of AIADMK returned to power. In fact, Karunanidhi, who never liked anybody speaking in any language other than Tamil, got his address at the Bada Khana event translated into Hindi to enable the workers understand the praise he showered on them for the great construction. There are also reports to suggest that his relative Dayanidhi Maran was made Union Communication Minister in Delhi during UPA government because he spoke and understood Hindi well. Karunanidhi’s daughter and DMK MP Kanimozhi was provided private tuition to acquire good knowledge of Hindi.
Ironically, DMK opposes three language formula in Tamil Nadu schools so as to deny opportunity for Tamils to work in other states in the country. Such double standards by politicians is true of not only DMK, Shiv Sena, regional parties but also of BJP and Congress on various issues that impact common man. There is always political hypocrisy when it comes to language, corruption, reservation, Hindutva and other emotive issues. The only aim and goal of raking up such issues to get political dividends at the cost people and their welfare.
The same Dayanidhi Maran praised Google CEO Sundar Pichai for his achievements saying he was able to do it because he studied in English, but not in Hindi. But he did not say the same Pichai and other Brahmins were hounded out of Tamil Nadu by his grandfather Karunanidhi and other DMK members resulting in many brilliant Tam-Bram going abroad for higher studies, as they were denied opportunity in Tamil Nadu by the rampant caste-based politics practiced by Dravadian parties. This also resulted in brain-drain. Nearly 40 CEOs of fortune 500 companies are Indians, many of whom are South Indian Brahmins. In fact Tamil Nadu government led by DMK’s M K Stalin has appointed former RBI governor, Raghuram Rajan and former chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian as members of his economic advisory council.
But one thing is very clear, states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala can no longer carry out their industrial, construction and farming activities without migrant labour. In Tamil Nadu alone, there are over 800,000 migrant labour from northern and north-eastern states. The state can ill-afford to antagonize them as economic activities will come to a stand-still without migrant workforce. It therefore goes to the credit of the state government, particularly chief minister M K Stalin for diffusing the situation and winning over the confidence of the migrant workers. He has rightly used his political offices to assure safety and security of migrant workers to the respective state governments as well.
It is time that political parties shun emotive issues from political discourse as enough damage has been done to the fabric of the society in the last 75 years by raking them up time and again at the cost of development. In fact, the political parties should now take a vow to ensure that only developmental issues will be part of political discourse and nation-building efforts. Caste-based and religion based politics should be buried for ever so that India moved in rapidly to cash-in on the economic opportunity that has come its way. That alone can ensure India became a developed economy by 2047 with proper education, health care and jobs for all. In fact moral education too should become part of educational curriculum. Moral education does not mean religious education. (IPA Service)