Opposition leaders on Monday reacted sharply to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in the Lok Sabha, in which he had accused them of instigating migrant labourers to leave metropolitan cities during the 2020 nationwide lockdown to rein in the coronavirus pandemic.

In his reply to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address in the Lok Sabha, Modi had alleged that Congress leaders in Mumbai distributed free train tickets to migrants, while the Delhi government sent out jeeps with loudspeakers to slums and urged people there to return to their villages.

“They pushed labourers to go back to their states and spread coronavirus,” the prime minister claimed.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal termed the prime minister’s claim as an outright lie. “The country hopes that the prime minister will be sensitive towards those who faced pain during the time of the coronavirus and those who lost loved ones,” he said. “It doesn’t suit the prime minister to politicise the pain of people.”

Kejriwal also responded to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, who alleged that his government left little children and women on the Uttar Pradesh border in the middle of the night during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“...Corpses of people from UP were floating in rivers and you were spending crores of rupees to give advertisements of false praise in the [Time] magazine,” the Delhi chief minister said. “I have not seen a ruler as heartless and cruel as you.”

In a similar vein, Congress leader from Maharashtra, Balasaheb Thorat, alleged that the Union government shied away from its responsibilities and left migrant labourers to die. He added that the Congress party came forward with a humanitarian view and many of its members worked hard to send these workers honourably to their villages.

“If Modiji believes that helping the poor north Indian brothers was a crime, then we will do it repeatedly,” Thorat said.

The Congress’ leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, alleged that Modi moved away from the dignity associated with a prime minister’s address and indulged in cheap politics, The Indian Express reported. He responded to the prime minister’s remark that the Congress had become the leader of the “tukde-tukde gang” that purportedly seeks to break the country.

“The Congress is more than a century old party and he is saying that this party is with the tukde-tukde gang,” Chowdhury said. “It showed his shallowness and parochial attitude.”

The Congress leader said that the prime minister should have spoken about national security, the Pegasus surveillance allegations and rising unemployment. “But, instead he gave a speech which is given at election rallies,” he said. “He perhaps forgot that he was speaking in Lok Sabha.”

The party’s leader in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, urged the Maharashtra and Delhi governments to respond to Modi’s comment.

“People were in trouble...[They] had no shelter, food, water or clothes,” Kharge told ANI. “Where would they have gone? Was helping them a mistake? It’s not right to cover up your mistakes by taunting others as a prime minister.”

During an election campaign in Goa, Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra questioned if Modi wanted the migrant workers to be left helpless, ANI reported.

“People whom he [Modi] had deserted, who had no way of returning to their homes, who were coming back on foot...Did he want that nobody should help them?” she questioned while speaking to reporters. “What about the big [election] rallies he did?”

Dravida Munnethra Kazhagam MP TR Baalu said that the prime minister could have at least repeated what President Ram Nath Kovind said about the work of the central government, according to The Indian Express.

“He simply went on fighting with the Congress,” Baalu said. “What is the use? He quoted [Subramania] Bharathiyar’s poem…those poems recited during the freedom struggle are still remembered fondly. No problem...But at the same time, his government had rejected Tamil Nadu’s Republic Day tableau, which had the statues of many freedom fighters.”

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said that trains and interstate travel were stopped four hours before the nationwide lockdown was announced and daily wage labourers were left stranded. “If looking after them with food and shelter was wrong in the eyes of the PM, then will make this mistake 100 times over,” she said on Twitter.

“If PM would have watched closely, he would have seen how these migrant labourers on reaching their homes were first sprayed with sanitisers in abject humiliation,” she added. “Was raising voice against the sufferings a mistake?”

Chaturvedi alleged that the second wave of the coronavirus was mismanaged as the Union government was busy seeking votes, rather than scaling up beds and medical oxygen.

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  2. Covid-19: Even if it can’t let migrant workers go home, India must treat them justly and humanely