Five days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a lockdown extension across India till May 3.
Yogi Adityanath has for the second time defied his boss and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the lockdown and sent a public message that he is his own man. Yesterday, the UP government which he leads sent a fleet of buses to Kota in Rajasthan to bring back more then 7,000 students stranded there.
Earlier, in Lockdown 1.0, Yogi appeared to break with Modi's lockdown orders by participating in a pre-dawn religious ceremony in Ayodhya to carry the idol of "Ram Lalla" to a temporary structure in the Ram Janmabhoomi. State official said at the time that no public members were involved in the ceremony and sanitisation and other guidelines had been followed.
Yogi's recusing of UP's students showed up his counterpart in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, who had objected to his administration's attempts to bring home students from his state. Possibly to avoid seeming either unconcerned or isolated in his stand, Kumar yesterday told NDTV, "This (ferrying of students across state borders) is injustice with the principle of lockdown." Kumar's fabled wizardry with spin can't bail him out from his utter lack of sympathy with migrants from Bihar stranded on the road and in primitive shelters, whose images time and again have driven home the enormous human cost of the world's largest lockdown.
The rich irony of Kumar, an ally of the BJP, accusing a BJP Chief Minister of violating the lockdown is not easily lost. It may have worked for Kumar except that Yogi was actually offering relief to UP students.
Yogi has always been his own boss and barely brooked any interference from the central government led by Modi. "Yogi follows no leader. He is the only leader in his own mind. When as "mahant" of the Goraknath mutt, Maharaj (as he is called across the state) was supreme, why would he listen to any other authority now?" a senior BJP leader told me.
During the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) movement, Yogi's violent crackdown on the protestors and his announcement that the property of the protestors would be seized to make up for the damage they had done to public property was viewed with alarm by the centre. Yogi had not consulted any senior BJP leader before the announcement.
This time around, Yogi has acted to provide relief to students. In contrast, most states in India including his have turned their back on destitute migrants from their state who are stranded from home in other states. Hundreds of thousands are stuck on the roads and in primitive shelters often getting only one meal a day or starving.
Akhilesh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party chief, who has been silent for a while asked yesterday for the evacuation of UP migrant workers as well.
The UP students went home after they had launched a campaign on social media to draw attention to their plight. Special flights were allowed to bring middle class Indians back from across the world, not even a bus is being arranged for the migrant workers.
This despite India Inc and senior cabinet ministers being categorical that India cannot re-open for business unless migrant labour comes back to work. The migrants, who live on daily wages l, simply want a chance to reach home and be with their families.
Lockdown 1.0 was announced with four-hour notice and saw daily wagers hitting the roads in an exodus desperate to get home. Incredibly, the central government and the states did no planning when the extension of lockdown was announced. The same desperate exodus was repeated in Mumbai and Surat as migrants believed rumours that trains would run to take them home.
The government still has no effective plan on how to get them home, feed them better or directly transfer cash to them.
Perhaps, Yogi will take the lead again.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.