For Assam migrants, elections are a question of existence

With the election heat rising, the unfolding political scenario in the country is a hot topic of discussion among the residents.
Migrant workers discuss politics in front of a tea shop in Kandanthara, Perumbavoor. (Top) Israfil and Shamina Sheikh explain their political stand at a textile shop
Migrant workers discuss politics in front of a tea shop in Kandanthara, Perumbavoor. (Top) Israfil and Shamina Sheikh explain their political stand at a textile shop Photo | A Sanesh

PERUNBAVOOR : Despite the hot afternoon hours, tea shops, saloons and mobile service centres in Kandanthara, Perumbavoor, were a beehive of activity. Known as ‘mini-Bengal’, the place has a large concentration of migrant workers, mostly from West Bengal, and also from Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Bihar.

With the election heat rising, the unfolding political scenario in the country is a hot topic of discussion among the residents. Many of them are busy booking tickets and packing their luggage to visit their hometown to cast their votes.

Uttar Pradesh native Mahindra Dev, who works as a tailor at a textile and stitching shop near the Bengali Colony, is a big fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Modi has raised the stature of the country. Look at our neighbours; Sri Lanka has gone bankrupt and the economy of Pakistan has gone for a toss,” he tells us in Hindi, in the midst of speaking in his regional language, Bhojpuri, to his customers and friends.

West Bengal native Shamina Sheikh, who was chit-chatting with Dev in the latter’s shop, says she was once an ardent communist. “However, over the years, neither the CPM nor the Trinamool Congress (TMC) have performed well in my hometown. This time, my vote is for Modi, because the BJP, through the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, deposits a certain amount into my bank account. I used to receive Rs 500 during Covid days and now, I get around Rs 2,000,” says Shamina. Having lived in Kerala for more than a decade, Shamina says that though the Left didn’t perform well in her hometown, the CPM here has carried out several welfare activities.

Migrant workers.
Migrant workers.

The conversation in the small room snowballed into a heated discussion about the Modi government’s performance.

Israfil Ali, of Assam, says, “Congress and CPM are doing fine in Kerala. The BJP should not open its account in Kerala or anywhere for that matter.” He further says that his hometown, Nagaon, in Assam, which shares a close border with China, is under a major threat. Ali says he is going to his home state to cast his vote or else he would fall into ‘D’ voter or dubious/doubtful voter category. “I’m cutting on my earnings to travel to my hometown just to cast my vote,” he says. Assam goes to the polls in three phases on April 19, April 26 and May 7, and voting in Nagaon is on April 26.

Minarul Shek from Murshidabad, West Bengal, who works in a plywood factory here, is also impressed by the CPM-led LDF government in the state. “CPM was the prominent political party in West Bengal. Now, they have no role there because of the corruption during the CPM rule. The CPM in Bengal and Kerala are completely different entities. The LDF government is doing well here. The ordinary people are supported and taken care of. Kerala has good roads, an efficient police system, a high-quality education system and well-run public hospitals,” he says.

Meanwhile, the migrant workers are upbeat about Rahul Gandhi’s presence in Kerala. “The BJP is irrelevant here. In Kerala, we have seen only the UDF and the LDF. Also, Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad will help other Congress candidates win the election,” said Musthafa of Ranaghat in West Bengal, adding that Kerala doesn’t discriminate against people based on their caste and religion.

The Ernakulam district is home to 6 lakh migrant workers, of which around 1 lakh stay in Perumbavoor. “Around 25% of the total migrant population in Perumbavoor has already left for their hometowns, and others will leave as the election nears,” says Anoop, the head of Western Plywood in Perumbavoor.

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