Kamal Nath’s tenure as the CM of Madhya Pradesh seems to have begun on high and low notes. As soon as his candidature for the position of CM was revealed, his alleged involvement in the 1984 riots were dug out and publicised. Then, as soon as he was sworn in as the CM, he delivered the pre-poll promise of farm loan waiver by waiving off farm loans of upto ₹ 2 lakhs. Next came his controversial comment about how migrant workers from other states are robbing locals of jobs in the state, and there needs to be a quota or reservation to employ local workers.
But this has not been a one-off remark on the controversial topic. It has come time and again in Maharashtra with the Shiv Sena actively batting for restricting migration to Maharashtra and especially to Mumbai with their Maratha Manoos slogan. Politically charged comments against migrant workers in Gujarat this year created fear of persecution against them and triggered their mass exodus. There has been a massive upswing of migrant workers mainly from West Bengal and Assam to Kerala in the last decade. There are many reasons why this migration happens and the situation is far more complex than that which can be solved by reservations or “go back to your own states” rhetoric.
Migration is an essential and crucial aspect of the ecosystem of nature itself. All species can be broadly divided into two categories based on their habitats. The endemic ones or the local residents and the migrant ones. The most famous migration in nature is the Masai Mara migration. Every year, millions of Wildebeest move from Kenya to Tanzania and back across the Masai Mara river. It is one of the most amazing spectacles in nature. Birds fly thousands of miles to different locations during winter seasons. There is only one reason for these migrations in nature. Food.
Humans have also migrated to different places all over the world and that is how there is a human population on so many continents and islands. But human migrations have been far more complex. For example, according to mainstream history, the original inhabitants of north India were driven beyond the Western Ghats when Aryans came and occupied the north Indian plains. Those were the times when different cultures across the world wanted to spread their dominance to other areas, and conquest of other kingdoms was the chosen way to impose cultures and traditions. Then came colonialism where the objective was to conquer different lands to drain them of their resources rather than spread foreign cultures.
All of this changed with the increased usage of the concept of money. When money became the representative of wealth and the measuring yard of prosperity, the focus of migration shifted entirely towards it. Better remuneration for work and improved living conditions have become the pivot for migrations. This is how Indian diaspora has strong presence now in all English speaking western countries.
When it comes to migrating to distant lands, the first Indian migrants who moved to the Caribbean and African countries worked in tea, coffee and sugarcane plantations. Migrants anywhere in the world have never got absorbed into the local diaspora and they never get direct access to the job market – no matter how educated or skilled they are. For example, only citizens and green card holders are eligible to work in US government jobs and projects, and there are thorough security assessments which need to get cleared. This can be perceived as one way of job reservation. Migrants usually take up jobs that the local people are not keen to work on and can be employed on a lesser pay than the local people.
Cut to the current situation in India and the migration of people among different states are endemic or local to India itself. Endemic migration of people in India is primarily for better remuneration. For example, Keralites migrate to the Middle East for better remuneration. Irony is, the work they do there is mostly what they hate doing in their homeland. But the money they send back to Kerala has helped the Kerala society prosper.
Semi-skilled and unskilled workers from neighbouring Tamil Nadu and as far as from West Bengal and Assam have flocked to Kerala to fill the different needs of Kerala society such as domestic helps, construction business and restaurants. Recently the salon I went to had hair specialists who were from UP and have been in Kerala for the past 10 years. Why to Kerala? Because of better remuneration compared to other Indian states for similar professions and better living conditions.
So what is causing this imbalance among different states? Primarily it is the agrarian distress. There is a direct correlation between increasing lack of interest in agriculture and increasing unemployment in the country. The primary requisite of a prosperous society or country is to find the right balance among its different industry sectors. Two reasons have led to the sharp decline in the agricultural sector. Primarily it is the governments ignoring the duress of the farmers.
Failed crops, burden of loans and no profits from their crops have led to farmer suicides. The central and state governments have been showing little to no interest in addressing the concerns of the farmers. This has led the next generation of farmers away from farming and chase formal education or learn other skills, sell their agriculture land, and migrate to cities for jobs and business ventures. This in turn has created the swelling unemployment rate.
The central and state governments are culpable and should be held responsible for ignoring agriculture in a predominantly agrarian society, siding with capitalist business enterprises, creating unemployment that is ailing the country and making cities unlivable with burgeoning population pollution and shrinking natural resources. The recent election results in MP and Rajasthan were the direct result of central and state government’s callous approach to the rural farming community.
I have heard of a development policy of the Chinese government wherein every year a certain amount of agriculture land is allotted for urbanisation. But, a certain amount of unused urban land is also reclaimed for agriculture. Indian state governments need to strike a balance in a similar way between urbanisation and agriculture. If all state governments were working in equal measure for the development of their own states, worker migration would decrease phenomenally. Then there is the difference of wages in different states which can be addressed by fixing the same minimum wages across all the states. This would further decrease the migration especially of the semi-skilled and unskilled workers.
Skilled and highly skilled workers are more likely to migrate locally and to distant places according to the demand of their skills and experience. They also earn much higher income by getting opportunities to work in better jobs and also to upgrade their skills. Semi-skilled and unskilled workers rarely get any such opportunities. It is truly sad that they leave their families behind and travel long distances to do the same work they could have done in their own states itself if the remuneration was on parity. Add to this sometimes their propensity for crimes also increases when these workers migrate from an economically weaker area to an economically prosperous area.
It is high time state governments stopped complaining about people’s migration and started working towards focusing on agriculture, creating employment and making peoples lives better. As long as we are united by a Constitution, a federal governance structure and judiciary, all states should be treating the people of other states without discrimination. The onus is on the central government to ensure and safeguard the basic rights of all citizens of the country.