Parties divided on ‘victim’ lines during lockdown

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As various segments of the population struggle through the lockdown, political parties are doing what they are best at: play vote bank politics. While the Congress is focusing on the plight of migrants, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the students’ wing of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have taken the responsibility of providing inter-district transport for thousands of students from Maharashtra’s rural areas stranded in the city due to the lockdown.

Speaking to The Hindu, Maharashtra Navnirman Vidyarthi Sena (MVNS)’s Pune chief, Kalpesh Yadav urged the Maha Vikas Aghadi government to provide free transportation to students from the State’s rural areas. “There are nearly 4,000 students preparing for civil services and the Maharashtra Public Service Commission examinations. For the past 42 days, we have been providing meals to more than 1,750 students. Their plight was no less miserable than that of migrant workers,” he said. “While this is no time to point fingers at other parties, I strongly urge the State government to make free transportation available to these students so they can return to their villages on the lines of bringing back stranded students back from Kota in Rajasthan.” He said students in the Peth areas in the heart of the city as well as suburbs like Wagholi, Lonikand, Vishrantwadi and other areas had reached out to him.

Besides these meals, supplied twice a day by the MVNS, Mr. Yadav said the outfit has spent ₹70,000 and requisitioned two State Transport buses to take a batch of these students to their home towns in Jalgaon district. On Monday, two more buses carrying more than 40 students left for Ahmednagar and Nashik after taking permission from the Pune district collector.

The students have run out of money due to the lockdown being extended, he said. “With all hotels and eateries shut, they were not only bereft of food but were also under severe mental stress. Their worried parents had been urging them to come home by any means available,” Mr. Yadav said.

It was only after MNS leader Amit Thackeray [Raj Thackeray’s son] had petitioned Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray that the directives were issued to district authorities to make arrangements for these students, he said. The BJP, too, has taken up the cause of the students, with three buses provided by the party taking them to their destinations in Kolhapur, Sangli and Nashik districts.

Political observers said the Congress is eyeing the larger vote bank by targeting migrant workers, while parties like the MNS were focusing on the younger lot.

“There is an obvious political dimension to these proceedings. Traditionally, not only migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but other social classes from these States too owe a firm allegiance to the Congress. The MNS, being a much smaller regional party, has eyed the younger demographic for building their base in Pune, especially among students preparing for competitive exams,” said city-based political analyst Rajendra Pandharpure.

Mr. Pandharpure said while the BJP-led Centre would ultimately take credit for arranging transport for workers, the Congress had launched a ‘first-strike’ in its expression of concern for the stranded migrants.

“The Congress party line is followed in cities like Pune as well, with the focus naturally being more on migrant workers than on students. Here, the BJP with its leaders like Chandrakant Patil and Siddharth Shirole, and the MNS, with its natural base among students, have stolen a march on Maharashtra’s ruling parties,” he said.

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