Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday described Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s move to meet migrant workers camping at a flyover in Delhi as dramatic, and asked the party to act “more responsibly” in the current situation of coronavirus crisis, NDTV reported.
“Instead of wasting the time of migrants and sitting with them, walk along with them and carry their suitcase,” the finance minister said at a press conference held to announce the fifth tranche of special measures to revive the economy with a Rs 20-lakh crore package. “In Congress-ruled states, request for more trains so that more migrants can reach home. They call us ‘dramebaaz’. What about yesterday? That is dramebaazi’.”
Sitharaman said she wants to make a “humble request” with “folded hands” to Congress President Sonia Gandhi to deal more responsibly with the migrant crisis, amid a nationwide lockdown to contain the virus.
Photos of Gandhi sitting on the pavement and talking to workers and their families were widely circulated on social media on Saturday. Media reports suggested that the workers who Gandhi spoke to were later detained by the Delhi Police. 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’s move came hours after he urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “reconsider” the Rs 20-lakh crore package, and emphasised the need to directly transfer money to the people’s accounts.
Meanwhile, Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi wrote to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, asking him to grant the party permission to help labourers.
“Our buses are standing at the [Uttar Pradesh] border,” Priyanka Gandhi tweeted. “Thousands of nation-building migrant workers, brothers and sisters are walking in the sun. Give us permission to help our brothers and sisters.”
The Congress general secretary said many labourers on both sides of the Uttar Pradesh border were stranded as they were not being allowed passage. She said that their livelihoods are at a standstill since they have had no work for 50 days.
“Blank announcements and cheap politics will not work,” Priyanka Gandhi added. “Operate more trains, run more buses. We have asked for permission for 1,000 buses. Let us serve.”
On May 1, the Centre started over 300 “Shramik Special” trains for migrant labourers to return to their hometowns. In spite of this, many have continued to walk home. Some migrants have died on their way, due to exhaustion or accidents.
On May 14, Sitharaman announced that the Centre would allocate Rs 3,500 crore for migrant relief. However, the Congress attacked the government, calling this amount very inadequate. Its spokesperson Manish Tewari labelled the government “suit-boot ki sarkar”.
India has so far reported 90,927 cases of the coronavirus, including 2,872 deaths, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The nationwide lockdown began on March 25 and has been extended till May 31, with some relaxations for economic activities.