FLAME in the news | April 7, 2021

By Divya Balan
As Kerala goes to polls today, many of our migrant workers are heading home to exercise their franchise in West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu.

DespiteCovid protocols and skyrocketing travel expenses amid job uncertainties, they know that this will have a major bearing on their lives as these are the first polls after the pandemic began last year. They will elect only those candidates whom they believe will take care of their needs in times of adversity and provide better living and economic conditions.

During the pandemic, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana passed laws to reserve jobs for residents and Jharkhand, Rajasthan, MP, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka are following suit. DMK’s election manifesto promises 75% job-reservation for Tamils if they are voted to power.

However, implementing job-quotas or announcing freebies will not resolve the issues related to interstate migration of labour in the long-run. Similarly, the dependence on home-states for rights and welfare is not viable as migrant workers are absent from their states most time of the year to avail the same.

Nothing will stop people from migrating to greener pastures as societies tend to face poverty, unemployment, underemployment or employment in informal sectors. Despite being a significant voting bloc in home states, inter-state migrants need a spotlight in their destination states as politically-significant members of the society.

One way is to exercise their voting rights in destination societies. Reforms in electoral system to ease the procedures of enlisting in voters’ list and awareness creation among migrants about the benefits of socio-political integration to host societies can be a step forward in this direction.

Being the new hub for inter-state migration, Kerala is at the forefront in providing better conditions to its ‘guest workers’. But, they are excluded from conversations around assembly elections, though one cannot deny that these migrant workers contribute significantly to the state’s economic productivity and growth.

A content analysis of the manifestos of the three major fronts illustrates the lesser visibility of this vulnerable community in the progressive, political sphere of Kerala. Since election manifestos are the blueprints for comprehensive development, featuring in it demonstrates economic and political significance of migrants in the socio-economic and political spectrums of Kerala. Though one may argue that several promises of employment in the manifestos are indirectly applicable to migrants, direct references are fewer.

UDF manifesto has a one-liner under welfare scheme section stating that, “Ration and health cards will be implemented for interstate workers (Section 4),” while NDA manifesto’s one-liner is about “Making the interstate workers registration mandatory” under its employment section (Point Number 17). LDF manifesto has covered it under the section on social security (892nd promise), stating that “Welfare of guest workers will be strengthened. Ration cards, health cards, and insurance will be provided to them. Public facilities will be created in their accommodation centres with the help of local bodies.” This meagre representation is against the prominent featuring of NRKs in these manifestos (Section 10 of LDF, Section 28 of UDF and Section 18 of NDA) as separate and elaborate sections dealing with diaspora welfare and reintegration.

This has to be read together with the fact that NRKs have voting rights, though those who register as voters are far less than the Keralites working abroad.

Other than the peculiar hardships migrants face during emergencies, they have to deal with several challenges. Interim measures are not adequate to address their hardships, especially in the absence of a reliable database on them in Kerala. No party identified data collection, related to migration, as their political priority even after the first wave of the pandemic. This further underlines the need for migrants to politically integrate into Kerala society and enhance their visibility and bargaining power.