When philosopher John Rawls attempted to answer the age-old question, “what is the right thing to do?”, he placed the idea of fairness and justice at the heart of morality. A fair system is one that has equality as its driving force, he suggested. This fair system consistently aims to correct the disadvantages of the weaker section, creating an equal playing field for free choice to operate.

The political game that has played out in Uttar Pradesh over the last few days over transport for lakhs of migrant workers who are walking home to their home villages from the cities in which they were stranded makes nonsense of any attempt to build a fair system. In India’s largest state, petty politics has trumped the urgency of helping the poor.

On May 16, the Congress decided to offer to help get migrants back to their homes in Uttar Pradesh. Party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi wrote to state Chief Minister Adityanath, offering to arrange 1,000 buses to transport workers stuck on the state borders.

Any state government acting in the interests of weaker citizens would have jumped at this opportunity. Instead, a petty political brawl ensued, resulting in Adityanath’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress filing legal cases against each other’s members.

The Adityanath government chose to find fault with buses that had been offered. It claimed that 100 of the buses weren’t buses at all but vehicles of other types. About 290 of them, the state claimed, did not have necessary documents, including fitness certificates.

Instead, Congress state chief Ajay Lallu was arrested for alleged cheating and forgery. A case was registered against Priyanka Gandhi’s secretary for providing factually incorrect list of buses.

The BJP might be wary of the Congress hijacking the political narrative in the middle of the lockdown crisis. But this cannot justify the attempts to block help being offered to the workers, especially at a time when Uttar Pradesh has not been able to come to their aid effectively.

In the middle of a humanitarian crisis, India’s politicians should ask themselves why exactly they have entered the field of public service if they treat the public so callously.