The spate of attacks on migrant workers continues in Gujarat nearly two weeks after the first such incident was reported in the state. If the mob violence was initially reported from north Gujarat, where the rape of a toddler allegedly by a migrant worker became a trigger, it has now spread to other regions. As the exodus of workers continues, the chief ministers of Bihar and West Bengal have expressed concern. In the circumstances, the state government bears the primary responsibility of cracking down on the perpetrators of violence and maintaining law and order. At the same time, however, the Congress, the principal opposition party in an essentially two-party state, also has a crucial role in not allowing emotions to flare up. It must be mindful that the violence has the potential to undermine the state’s economy, which is shored up by migrant workers. Unfortunately, the party’s conduct leaves a lot to be desired.
Questions have been raised over the involvement of the Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena (GKTS), a caste outfit headed by Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor, in the incidents of mob violence against migrants. Thakor has denied the allegations, while conceding that “there could be some instances”. He has promised action against the errant GKTS members, while also threatening to hold a fast against the alleged foisting of cases on his Sena. Even as Thakor refuses to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, the Congress leadership has been indulgent towards him. Thakor has risen rapidly in the organisation since joining the party on the eve of the 2017 assembly elections. Thakor and his Sena have a dubious record of injecting a nativist strand in state politics by targeting “outsiders” for the waning of educational and employment opportunities in Gujarat. Amid the unfolding violence, the Congress must be especially vigilant against endorsing, or being seen to endorse, protectionist rhetoric laced with hate. Yet, party chief Rahul Gandhi’s Facebook post on the anti-migrant violence reads like an unfortunate attempt to rationalise it: “Amongst the youth there is growing frustration and anger with the government’s inability to create jobs. This anger and frustration is being manifested in violent attacks on migrants, across the state of Gujarat”. Needless to say, the government’s failure in creating jobs does not excuse violence against the beleaguered workers who neither have legal cover nor political muscle to protect their lives and livelihoods.
The Congress must make it clear to its cadres and leaders in Gujarat that it doesn’t condone mob violence in any form, whatever be the cause. It should caution leaders like Thakor that polarising nativist talk is not in the interest of the party or the nation.