We, the migrants

I wonder what my teacher Jagadish Bhagwati, the eminent economist who has championed the cause of 'nations without borders' would be thinking about the current Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) agitation to oust north Indians from Maharashtra. Not that the MNS would have heard of him or would care for his views, but the rest of the world does.

India has been in the forefront of nations that have championed freer movement of people across nations. It is ironic that we ourselves experience a competitive feud in a political family to propel the most evil form of sub-national xenophobia.

In terms of motivation, movement within regions and provinces of a country is no different from international migration.

In India, according to the 2001 census the number of inter-state migrants was 42.34 million, just 13.8 per cent of the total number of migrants, suggesting that a vastly greater number move between cities, villages, and districts within a state. The total number of migrants in Maharashtra from other states is over 7 million. The number of migrants from Maharashtra to other states is 2.16 million; thankfully, there is no threat to them.

There are issues of politics and economics arising from the present controversy:

First, the concerns raised by MNS are no different from the apprehensions raised by countries where migrants land that migrants might usurp local jobs, upset the cultural cohesiveness of society, cause strain on civic amenities and infrastructure. However, successive studies have proved these fears to be grossly exaggerated. Migrants all over the world, and indeed in India, add value and create wealth for sustenance of a competitive economic order. This is equally applicable to more prosperous states like Punjab, Haryana, and Kerala.

Large areas of activities, in Maharashtra and elsewhere, are dependent on the skills and endurance of migrant labour and many of these would become unviable if flows were curtailed. Market forces will equilibrate between demand and supply in matching skills with emerging demands.

... contd.

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