Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday met a group of migrant workers who were camping near a flyover in the Sukhdev Vihar locality of Delhi.
Photos of Gandhi sitting on the pavement and talking to workers and their families were widely circulated on social media. Media reports suggested that the workers who Gandhi spoke to were later detained by the Delhi Police. The Congress too has supported these claims, according to the Hindustan Times.
The police in the Capital have denied the allegations. “Rahul Gandhi came, interacted with migrants,” an unidentified police official told the newspaper. “Later his supporters took the migrants in their vehicles.” Meanwhile, unidentified police officials told news agency ANI that the migrants were not allowed to board the vehicle offered by the Congress workers, in accordance to the guidelines on physical distancing.
The Congress leader reportedly discussed the hardships faced by the workers as they undertake long journeys in a desperate attempt to reach their hometowns. “Gandhi enquired about our difficulties,” Mahesh Kumar, who was part of the group told the Hindustan Times. “I told him we are not getting any food. It has been 50 days without work...He promised he will do something about it. [I] Felt happy that someone came to see us.”
Gandhi also tried to get perspective as to why hundreds of thousands of them are still trying to walk back to their villages instead of opting for the special trains arranged by the Centre, according to NDTV.
The Congress leader’s encounter with the workers came hours after he urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reconsider the Rs 20-lakh-crore stimulus package to counter the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and emphasised the need to directly transfer money to people’s accounts.
Speaking to reporters via video conference, Gandhi said the Centre should stop acting like a “money lender” by giving the poor credit instead of cash. “Today, our people need money,” Gandhi said. “The prime minister should reconsider this package. Modiji should think about direct cash transfer, 200 working days under Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Act 2005, money for farmers, because they are the future of India.”
With businesses shut down in cities across the country, vast numbers of migrants began long journeys on foot, having been rendered homeless and jobless by the countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Some also died on their way while a few others died in accidents. Last month, the Centre arranged for the movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and “other persons” by shramik special trains to be operated by the railways during the lockdown.