This Article is From Apr 30, 2020

On Bringing Migrant Workers Home, Nitish Kumar's Not-So-Quick Second Act

Coronavirus Bihar: Nitish Kumar, with characteristic adaptability to popular opinion, is in search of trains to bring migrant workers back to Bihar

On Bringing Migrant Workers Home, Nitish Kumar's Not-So-Quick Second Act

Coronavirus: Nitish Kumar was among chief ministers who attended video conference with PM


  • Nitish Kumar was opposed to movement of migrant workers
  • Bihar Chief Minister said it would increase transmission of COVID-19
  • Other states moved to bring back people, now he asks for special trains

Till yesterday afternoon, Nitish Kumar was so firmly against bringing back those from his state who are stranded elsewhere in the country that he described the proposition as "an injustice to the principle of (the) lockdown." His comment, made last week, served as self-defence - he was alone among major states in doing little to bring students and migrant workers back to Bihar. It also did double time as a rebuke to his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who dispatched buses to Rajasthan to help students from his state who were desperate to be home.

Today, Nitish Kumar, with characteristic adaptability to popular opinion, is in search of trains to bring migrant workers back to Bihar. His deputy, Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP, tweeted that the centre must operate special trains to transport "migrants from distant places". This demand has been made repeatedly by the government of Maharashtra, which has been worst-hit by coronavirus; Mumbai employs more migrant workers than any other city in the country.

On April 14, a government order re-emphasized the ban on travel between states. Less than a week later, Yogi Adityanath, in violation of those rules, sent buses to collect students who live as hostellers in Kota, the town that has turned into Coaching Class Central. Earlier this week, Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robe wearing monk, also met with his officials to determine how to bus in migrants from his state who are stranded in cities far from their families, with no income, dependent on government shelters or NGOs to feed them.


Coronavirus: Last night, the centre said migrants can return home

Other states also evacuated their students from Kota - like Chhattisgarh, which is governed by Bhupesh Baghel of the Congress. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said his administration would help facilitate the movement of students. Buses began rolling in and out of Kota.

Not for Bihar. Nitish Kumar said the returnees would be tough to quarantine outside their villages, a practice followed by other states. In the last few days, 43 migrants who had returned to Bihar on their own have tested positive for coronavirus. Supporters of Nitish Kumar say his reluctance to allow returnees is justified - Bihar, which with UP provides the maximum number of an estimated 120 million migrant labourers in the country, does not have the infrastructure to cope with a medical crisis. The state has just 50 ventilators in three government hospitals dedicated to treating COVID-19.

On Monday, after days of being accused of ignoring the demands of his people, Nitish Kumar said at a video conference meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with state leaders that the government must amend its order on intra-state movement of migrants; there has to be one principle for all states, he said, suggesting that he was not opposed to the travel of migrants but in need of the centre's help in coordinating their journey home with precaution.


Coronavirus: Thousands of migrants stranded in the cities are heading home

Last night, the centre said migrants can return home - after being tested to determine that they are not infected and with home states advised to quarantine them for 14 days upon their arrival. The new guidelines were announced just before the government said that starting May 4, the restrictions of the exhaustive and extended lockdown first declared on March 25 by the PM will be considerably relaxed in parts of the country where the pandemic is in check.

Several MPs from Bihar reportedly offered strict criticism of Nitish Kumar's handling of this issue in a video conference session with Union Minister Prahlad Joshi.

As NDTV reported last night, the decision to allow migrants to head home was at least in part shaped by huge concern within the PM's party of a tide of anger and resentment among these daily wagers that could hurt the BJP politically.

Nitish Kumar, who has allied, broken with, and then returned to teaming with the BJP after forming a government with its bitterest opponents appears to have made similar calculations. Bihar votes next year and Nitish Kumar is aiming for another term - the BJP, atypically, has already announced him as its presumptive Chief Minister.