Migration and Political Consequences
Even though the DMK and the AIADMK have disagreed on most issues, both late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and present Chief Minister MK Stalin were firm and unanimous in their forthright condemnation of all those who tried to create a sense of insecurity for the migrant workers in Tamil Nadu. Growing in numbers, migrants are now the mainstay of the hosiery, hospitality, logistics and manufacturing sector in the state of Tamil Nadu. In fact, the state government and industry associations have teamed up to provide dormitory-like accommodation in Tirupur, Chennai and Sriperumbudur. The state has also clarified that based on the Aadhaar card migrant workers will be entitled to voter ID as well as Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) rations.
The reason why most state governments and political parties are careful to keep the migrant workers in good cheer and humour is that they are now critical to the value chains in all sectors of economic activity – be it agriculture or manufacturing or services.
Those who have not, their governments have suffered. Among the reasons for the decimation of the Congress party in Punjab was the incumbent CM Charanjit Singh Channi’s statement about the ‘bhaiyyas’. It was a jibe at the workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand who are the pillars of the state’s agriculture operations. They also perform core functions in the industrial belt of Ludhiana. Dead and gone are parties like Amra Bengali, which opposed the ‘outsider’ in Kolkata in the 1950s and 60s.
Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena talks not just of Maratha pride, but also acknowledges the contribution of Mumbaikars from across the country who have made it their home. Incidentally, after the decline of Kolkata, Bombay (now Mumbai) received the highest number of migrants in the first two decades of India’s Independence. So much so, that there was a strong demand for making the city a Union territory.
Post the formation of Telangana, the Hyderabad growth story has been spectacular and it is one of the fastest-growing urban centres in the country. Bengaluru has become an international city – it is India’s start-up capital, and the majority population is non-Kannada speaking.
Delhi is, of course, a city whose demographic profile has changed over the decades. From a Kayastha Muslim city in the 1940s to a Punjabi city for the next three decades, Delhi is now a truly cosmopolitan city post-liberalisation. It is where Chhat Pooja is celebrated with equal fervour as Christmas and Eid and Lohri.
Traditionally, the three big cities of yesteryears– Calcutta, Bombay and Madras had their own specific hinterlands. Bihar and eastern UP for Calcutta, the Malwa belt for Bombay and the Deccan for Madras, but this is no longer a valid proposition today. Workers from Northeast, nurses from Kerala, pilots from Haryana, tour guides from West Bengal, chefs from Odisha, start-up entrepreneurs from Rajasthan, logistics aggregators from Gujarat, exporters from Srinagar and aspiring film stars, directors and documentary filmmakers from everywhere make the new urban space in the country today.
Based on the 2011 Census, the district-wise migration data of the Economic Survey of 2016-17, the report of the Working Group on Migration of 2017 under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation as well as the report issued by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation in 2021, we know that well over 37 per cent of the population of the country are internal migrants. This figure may well be close to 40 per cent when granular data is collected in the next census. No wonder then that the Election Commission is considering the proposition of a change in the Representation of People Act (RPA) 1951 to allow for remote voting. Many migrants are reluctant to relinquish the link to their native places where they may still hold land or homestead.
To quote from the Economic Survey of 2017, “Relatively less developed states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have high net out-migration. Relatively more developed states take positive Cohort-based Migration Metric values (CMM) reflecting net immigration: Goa, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. The largest recipient was the Delhi region, which accounted for more than half of migration in 2015-16, while Uttar Pradesh and Bihar taken together account for half of total out-migrants. Maharashtra, Goa and Tamil Nadu had major net in-migration, while Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh had major net out-migration.”
Let’s ask ourselves an obvious question. What is migration, and what triggers it? The most accepted reasoning is ‘a response to the uneven distribution of opportunities over space’ per NCERT. Even though people are emotionally attached to the place of their birth, they tend to move to places of higher opportunity and social equity. This, in turn, creates both benefits and problems for the areas people migrate from, and to. These consequences can be observed in economic, social, cultural, political and demographic terms.
The first and most obvious cause and consequence for the source region is economic. The remittances sent by migrants not only sustain the families but also help in ground-level capital formation such as housing infrastructure, and funds for the education and healthcare of the family members left behind. While we do not have empirical data on the remittances among states within India, we do know from a World Bank report of 2019 that India received over $83 billion in foreign exchange from our migrants aboard, the top states being Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. In per capita terms, Punjab and Kerala take the lead.
Let us now examine the social impact of migration. It leads to innovative ideas on new technologies, work culture, social mores and awareness of rights, besides intermixing of people from diverse cultures. It leads to the evolution of a unique composite culture, breaking up the narrow considerations and widening the mental horizon of the people at large. Migrants of all skill levels—from gig workers to healthcare professionals—spawn creativity, nourish the human spirit and spur economic growth. ‘They bring diversity, provide innovation and bring about economic development and growth in the host societies,’ World Bank, 2019.
Migration also leads to demographic disruption with clear political consequences. Thus, gender, age and skill-selective out-migration from the rural areas have produced ‘ghost villages’ and caused a decline in the population of several districts. States like Uttarakhand have also established a state-level migration commission to address the issue of decline in the population of hill districts. When Uttarakhand was formed in 2000, there were 42 seats in the hills and 28 in the plains of Dehradun, Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar. It is now 36 in the hills and 34 in the plains, but given the growth of the population in these three districts, the next delimitation will certainly mean that the hill districts would have lost their majority.
There are other negative externalities as well. Urban habitats are affected with the growth of unauthorised colonies, and there is a political economy of slum clearances and redevelopment. Many political parties promise to regularise these settlements and also offer incentives like free water, power, roads, schools and Mohalla clinics.
But thanks to the fundamental right to food and work, the pull factor for interstate and intra-state migration is far more significant than the push factor. The new wave of migration and urbanisation is mostly voluntary and aspirational. Employment, education and healthcare facilities are undoubtedly far superior in the urban than the rural.
The young women and men in the districts of Pithoragarh and Tamenglong have the same aspiration as their cousins and friends in the metros. They are less inhibited in their social interactions and are willing nay eager to create a new metropolitan land space, which is economically productive, culturally vibrant and socially inclusive. The Amrit Kaal has set in.
(Sanjeev Chopra is a former IAS officer and Festival Director of Valley of Words. Till recently, he was the Director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration)