Anti-Migrant Labour Violence in Gujarat

Anti-Migrant Labour Violence in Gujarat Exposes the Real “Gujarat Model”


A recent spree of mob violence against the Hindi-speaking North Indian migrant labours in North Gujarat has forced thousands of poor workers into exodus. Dalit and lower-caste workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand are targeted by upper-caste mobsters after a migrant labour was accused of brutally raping a 14-month-old toddler in North Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district on 28 September. Though the accused is now in police custody, the mobsters are rampaging throughout the region to forcefully weed out the migrant labours, calling them a threat to the Gujarati society.

Ironically, this riot targeting the poor workers from North India is not led by the RSS or any of its offshoot Hindutva fascist organisations, unlike the 2002 Gujarat pogrom or numerous small and mid-scale communal riots triggered in the state since then. Rather, it’s led by Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor’s upper-caste feudal militia- Kshatriya Thakor Sena. Though Thakor is denying the involvement of his organisation in this mob violence, evidence shows otherwise. The men attacking the poor workers, who mostly belong to the Dalit, tribal and OBC, are from upper-caste Thakors and are led by feudal forces who mostly swear allegiance to Alpesh Thakor.

Hundreds of workers are wounded in this violence, many factories that employ the migrant workers are gutted and thousands of workers are fleeing Gujarat with sheer fear, a frantic exodus that earlier visible during the Surat plague outbreak, the 2001 earthquake and 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom. The attacks aren’t subsiding in Sabarkantha and other districts, rather they are spreading to new areas. The small and medium-scale industries, which are not guarded by organised security force, suffered the most due to labour exodus and millions have lost their livelihood due to the total anarchy that’s prevailing in the state, infamously known for its “model” of development.

The BJP is itself divided horizontally over the issue. While a section of the state BJP, mostly the upper-caste Thakors, have sided with the mobsters, the dominant Jains, Vaishyas and Patels have sided with the affected capitalists, who belong to their community. Most of the small and middle-scale factories are own by Jains, Vaishyas and Patels in Gujarat, which has made Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, a representative of big corporate capital and the trader community, express his government’s anguish over the issue and order the police to control the situation. Though the police have so far arrested 180 mobsters from different places, they are unable to control the mob violence as at the grassroots level different BJP and RSS leaders from the Kshatriya caste have stopped them from taking any punitive action against the rioters. The opposition Congress, which has Alpesh Thakor on its shelf, is also fuelling the violence in a subtle manner while its national committee condemns the exodus of workers to retain the vote bank in North Indian states.

Narendra Modi’s BJP is disturbed due to this inner-contradiction within its rank in Gujarat. While it cannot overlook the sentiments of the dominant Kshatriya community in the state for vote bank compulsions and its own urge to retain the communal polarisation done in the state through the violent endeavours of the RSS-led units, the BJP is under pressure from big comprador capitalists like Adani, Ambani, etc. to control the situation, because of their omnipresence in Gujarat’s industrial landscape. Being the state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is now an MP from North India’s Varanasi, a prominent constituency in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP government is also under compulsion to not provide fodder to the opposition in the home states of the frightened migrant labours, as that will boomerang for the BJP during the 2019 general election.

Afraid of losing support in the state, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has denied that there is any problem altogether in North Gujarat and praised his Gujarat counterpart for maintaining law and order in the state, which Vijay Rupani clearly didn’t. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who did a volte-face last year to form a coalition with the BJP, also condemned the Congress and laid the blame on Alpesh Thakor for the violence, providing a safe coverage to his ally BJP in the state where most affected workers belong to.

Due to the immense criticism he has to face during these riots, Alpesh Thakor has also entered a denial mode; he is calling the exodus of thousands of workers as a “Chhat Puja rush”, knowing well that the Chhat Puja will be observed on 13 November 2018, which is more than a month away and the poor workers can’t sacrifice a month’s wage for celebrating a festival when they’re paid quite a paltry sum of money. The BJP is continuously blaming the Congress for inciting the violence. According to the BJP, the violence is an attempt to economically paralyse Gujarat and create anarchy in the state by the Congress. While the grand old party of India is saying that the exodus is a result of lack of economic development and rampant unemployment of local people, which is fuelling a hatred against the poor migrant workers from North India.

Amidst this hurling of allegations and counter-allegations, no one has taken any decisive action from either camp to stop the exodus of the poor workers who have no employment opportunity at their home states. During the vandalism and rioting, the mobsters are also looting the hard-earned money of the migrant labourers that they save in cash. Many workers are rendered absolutely destitute after they faced the wrath of the upper-caste mobsters. 50,000 workers have reportedly left the state until 8 October 2018 morning and thousands of other workers are on their way.

Though the incident of the brutal rape of the toddler was initially used by the upper-caste Thakor community to spread vitriol against the poor, hapless and vulnerable migrant workers in North Gujarat, later the mob violence became intense on issues that have little or no connection with the crime. The issue of unemployment, economic crisis and a growing antagonism between migrant labour and local took the centre stage. The Kshatriya Thakor Sena, which has been instrumental in polarising the socio-economically dominant community members to demand a greater share of fruits of development for itself, hijacked the momentum created by Gujarat by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s decision that industries have to hire 80 per cent of its labour force from the local population.

The so-called “Gujarat Model” of development that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his sycophants within and outside the BJP hyped as a “magic wand” to resolve India’s economic woes and poverty during the 2014 general election, fell flat on its face in Gujarat itself, due to the poor economic condition, rising unemployment, growing agrarian crisis and general sloth growth of economy in the state. This failure of the “Gujarat Model” made the Prime Minister and the BJP scrap the use of the term in its political propaganda and during the Gujarat Assembly Election 2017, neither the BJP nor Narendra Modi once uttered the term fearing public rebuking in Hindutva fascism’s home state.

What this “Gujarat Model” of development has been can be understood from the 12-year-long rule of Narendra Modi in the state. The entire model is designed to woo big foreign capital and Indian comprador-crony capitalists to invest money in the state in lieu of a lot of freebies like free land, huge loans from public exchequer, tax sops and an unbridled opportunity to plunder the resources of the state. All these in return of a particular amount of commission that will go to the coffers of the BJP and the RSS.

Over years, this model of development has provided an immense growth opportunity to two major comprador-crony corporate entities of the country and caused huge losses to the state exchequer, environment and to the lives of people. The “Gujarat Model” has been a favourite one for the corporate houses because the labour force of the state was weakened through communal fragmentation and denial of rights, which helped the capital to exploit the labour intensely to earn huge profit. Whenever the working class would show signs of discontent, communal riots will be instigated by Narendra Modi’s lapdog fascist hoodlums and the unity of the workers would be cracked. As the crony and comprador capitalists grew immensely under this “model” in the state, they planned for its pan-India implementation through Narendra Modi’s ascension to the prime minister’s throne.

Meanwhile, Gujarat scores poorly on the human development index; rising poverty and unemployment have seen a constant rise in the state in the last one decade. With Narendra Modi, an iron fist ruled the state and any form of dissent was crushed at the stage of a bud only, leaving no scope for opposition or the exposure of the true state-of-affairs. However, ever since Narendra Modi became the prime minister and Amit Shah reached Delhi to run the BJP, internal fissures cracked wide within the ruling party in Gujarat, which exposed the vulnerable status of a disunited and weak BJP. The Patidar movement of 2015, the Dalit self-assertion movement of 2016, the movement of the common people against the misrule of the BJP, etc. became nightmares for the RSS and the BJP, fighting which the latter somehow managed to retain the state in another assembly election held in 2017.

The public mood has been swinging drastically following the rising unemployment and poverty in the state. The upper-caste disgruntled youth, who despite their upper-caste background, extreme bigotry and Brahmanical outlook didn’t join the RSS rank as they have been seeing the same political formation since their childhood, now started becoming vocal for the local people’s employment rights, more share of industrial production and ouster of migrant labourers who are considered as their bread snatchers. The unity of almost all upper-caste communities, except the Jains, Patels and Vaishyas, against the BJP has been taking a shape since years. The core driving force of this unity is the lack of access to fruits of “development” by the local privileged part of the population. As these upper-caste communities like the Patidars and Thakors demand more share of power, economic wealth and development, the BJP faces the worst political crisis in the state since coming to power in the mid-1990s.

The recent attacks on the migrant labours throughout North Gujarat is fuelled by the upper-caste, socio-economically dominant group to ensure that the Kshatriya Thakor Sena can carve a niche for itself in the volatile situation of Gujarat’s polity like the Shiv Sena did in the 1960s-1980s in Maharashtra and Mumbai. The BJP can’t vehemently oppose the local vs migrant labour binary because it will affect its crucial local vote bank. Though the migrant workers are voters in their home states where the BJP itself is in power, Gujarat is a crucial trophy for the BJP and the RSS, which can’t be risked under any circumstances. Though the BJP will do damage control to keep the people of the BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, etc. hoodwinked with a concocted tale of absolute normalcy in Gujarat,  but they know that the truth can’t be covered up for long as the fleeing workers will expose it when they reach their homes. This fear of the BJP in managing its vote bank in other states and its dilemma at home over the anger of the Thakor community, which will eventually bring in other dominant caste groups of the segregated Gujarati society against the North Indian poor will give an impetus to politicians of Alpesh Thakor to project himself as a “messiah” of Gujarat, rising to the status that Modi had held for long.

In the era of liberalisation of economy and globalisation of capital, the labour is strictly localised and its movement is crippled with fascist xenophobic politics throughout the world. The rise of anti-immigrant fascists like Donald Trump, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin, etc. have long shown the course that the globalised world is taking. In India, the BJP itself plays a dirty anti-immigrant card in Assam and other states to incite Hindus against Muslims, which is now boomeranging in its home turf Gujarat. Its rhetoric over an Akhand Bharat is falling like a card of a house as one section of the country is attacking another. The popularity of Narendra Modi is falling fast, while that of Alpesh Thakor is rising steadily among the upper-caste Gujaratis. The politics of divisiveness and bigotry of another form is now driving Gujarat along the path of Assam, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The mob violence that has started in Gujarat will slowly engulf the entire region in its flames unless the poor Gujaratis and poor migrant labourers can be united against their common enemies who are represented by both the BJP and the Congress.

Pramod Singh is based in Patna. He is a political analyst who continuously monitors the events taking place around him. He is interested in learning foreign languages and he is an occasional poet.

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