Gujarat migrant exodus: Alpesh Thakor fishing in troubled waters stirred by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani

The violent targetting of migrant labours from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Gujarat is illustrative of the inimical trend in Indian politics to construct the outsider. It is he who is accused of turning life insecure and precarious. He is the parasite that fattens at the expense of those among who he lives. His insidious designs go unnoticed because he has the cunning to masquerade as the insider.

But then comes around a politician, who rips off the mask of the insider to reveal why he can't but be the outsider. It is because he is responsible for the misery of the majority. He is the bogeyman against whom they have always been taught to be on guard. He is not them, the majority. He is the other, the enemy, whose purpose is to turn their paradise into a living hell. Banish him to regain the paradise lost.

The theme of the outsider subliminally informs the onslaught against migrant workers who have reportedly fled Gujarat in thousands. It involved an intricate process of othering. A 14-month child was allegedly raped by a migrant worker. His criminality is undoubtedly individual. Yet it is ascribed as a trait of those who migrate from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to work in Gujarat. With one stroke, the entire community of migrant workers is criminalised. Only their banishment from Gujarat can instill a sense of security in its citizens. It legitimises the violence directed against migrant workers, who are viewed to be deserving of the vigilante justice meted out to them.

File image of Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani.

File image of Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani. Image/Firstpost

But the anger directed against migrant workers is not only because 'they are desperadoes who can rape a child'. They are also the outsiders who have 'deprived' Gujaratis of jobs created in their state. It is the locals who have the first right to the state's resources, so goes the sons-of-soil theory. The outsider consequently becomes the cause of the rising unemployment in Gujarat. From this simplistic logic flows the solution — hound migrant workers out of the state. It is precisely what Gujarati residents, the insiders, have been doing ever since the rape of the 14-month-old hit the headlines.

The rape, undoubtedly, was a pretext to resort to violence against the outsider. The migrant, as the outsider, had been constructed in the fortnight before. In September, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani announced that his government was planning to frame a law to make it mandatory for industries to have 80 percent of its workforce as Gujaratis. "This will provide benefits to the local residents," Rupani said.

Rupani's solution for unemployment in Gujarat was seemingly in response to the Congress' demand that the government should pay an allowance to Gujarati youths who don't have jobs. The chief minister was quoted saying, "Friends in Congress have been demanding unemployment allowance… Those unemployed should be given work. To keep the youths unemployed by giving them an allowance is the Congress line of thought."

It was to distinguish himself from the Congress that Rupani thought of a law laying down the hiring norms for industry. His was an example of mindless competitive politics. This is because there is already a rule in Gujarat which demands of all entities, whether in the private or public sector, to have Gujaratis in 50 percent of all managerial posts and 85 percent of all those in workers' grade. The Gujarat government has justified the need for a new law as employers are said to infringe the 85 percent rule with impunity.

But a new law is unlikely to resolve Gujarat's unemployment problem. Consider this: A report in The Indian Express in 2017 claimed that 92 percent of the workforce (total 8.23 lakh jobs) in about 4.700 large industrial units in the private sector comprised locals. In the state government-controlled establishments, the percentage of locals was as high as 98.9.

From this perspective, Rupani's legislative proposal is a spurious attempt at allaying the unfounded fears of Gujaratis that outsiders are depriving them of their jobs. Yet it subtly serves the purpose of constructing the outsider as Gujarat's bane — it is against him that Rupani is guarding the interests of locals, after all. By targeting the outsider, Rupani seeks to emerge as Gujarat's hero.

His script has gone a wee bit awry because Gujaratis took to attacking migrants, sparking off their exodus. These attacks have been ascribed to the Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena, which is the outfit of Congress leader Alpesh Thakor. He has tried to walk the tightrope, claiming that the current violence is an expression of anger against factory owners who flout the 80 percent rule in hiring. It is competitive politics at its worse — like Rupani, Thakor too has constructed the outsider as the source of Gujarat's manifold problems.

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It is politically advantageous to construct the outsider. For one, the outsider is in minority or is electorally insignificant. His or her concerns matter to the politician. For the other, the outsider is often culturally different from the mass of people who claim to be locals or insiders in a given territory. It is easy to exploit cultural differences to create suspicion and animosity, more so when the outsider is distinctively a migrant or whose indigenous origin is contested.

Gujarat isn't the first state to have framed a community as the outsider. For instance, the late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray built his political career by constructing the outsider and hunting them. He went after the "Madrasis" and then the Muslims. But Thackeray evolved his strategy of constructing and targeting the outsider at the time he was just a city politician. It is a different matter that the inheritors of his legacy have continued to periodically target migrants from the Hindi heartland in Maharashtra.

Worryingly, it is the party in power which has taken to constructing the outsider for both ideological and electoral purposes. Hindutva's foremost ideologue, VD Savarkar, considered as insiders or Indians only those for whom India was both the motherland and the holyland. Such a yardstick turned Muslims and Christians into perennial outsiders. The two communities were identified as India's Internal Enemies by none other than the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS, MS Golwalkar. To this list of internal enemies, Golwalkar also added the communists.

The RSS claims to have revised Golwalkar's writings, expunging remarks it no longer considers relevant to 21st century India. But at least on the count of the outsider, the BJP has continued to execute Golwalkar's ideas. Over the last four years, Muslims have been attacked and lynched in the name of cow, at times even for wearing the markers of their religious identity. They have been disallowed to pray in public places. Likewise, Christians have been assaulted for allegedly converting Hindus to their faith.

The trope of outsider has also acquired a new meaning with the preparation of the National Register for Citizens (NRC) in Assam. As many as 4 million people have failed to make it to the NRC. Unless they are able to prove that their forefathers were residents of Assam before March 24, 1971, they will be declared illegal immigrants. The NRC exercise was conducted under the supervision of the Supreme Court, convinced as it was that illegal immigrants have created economic and demographic upheaval in Assam.

But BJP president Amit Shah has turned Assam's illegal Bangladeshi migrants into a trope for the outsider all across India. To which ever state he travels, he speaks of Assam's NRC and promises to throw out every infiltrator. At a recent rally in Delhi, Shah said, "Are you bothered because of illegal immigrants in Delhi or not? Should they be thrown out or not? One hundred crores infiltrators have entered our country and are eating the country like termites. Should we throw them out or not?" Shah resorted to the imagery of termite in Rajasthan as well.

Is Rajasthan or Delhi troubled by illegal immigrants? Who are these illegal immigrants? Are they Bangladeshi Muslims? Or are they Indian Muslims? It is hard to second guess Shah's answers. But Gujarat should tell Shah and the BJP that the outsider can be constructed in multiple ways. Its citizens have remorselessly frightened migrant workers, Indians all, into fleeing the state.

Tomorrow, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar could well retaliate by giving a call for boycotting products manufactured in Gujarat. The politics of creating the outsider to pit him against the insider is inherently destructive.

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Updated Date: Oct 09, 2018 12:15 PM

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