New Delhi: Former BJP MP Balbir Punj kicked up a storm after he called migrant workers, undertaking the journey back home on foot, “irresponsible” on social media Friday.
Thousands of migrant and daily wage workers have been trying to return to their villages on foot after the Modi government announced an unprecedented nationwide lockdown for 21 days Tuesday. All public transport, including train services, have been suspended for this period.
In a series of tweets, Punj suggested that many were heading back to “utilise their forced ‘chutti’ to catch up with their families or errands back home”, even though multiple reports suggest that with no money or food they had little choice but to leave for home.
Why migrants leaving Delhi ? For want of money or food ? NO. Just irresponsible. There is no money/ jobs waiting for them back home. It’s to utilise their forced ‘chutti’ to catch up with their families or errands back home. Gravity of situation hasn’t dawned on them.@Si_lv_er
— Balbir Punj (@balbirpunj) March 27, 2020
In another tweet, he said, “What’s the mindset that’s motivating thousands to flee Delhi at great risk to themselves & others? Same which tells them to drive without helmets, seat belts , on the wrong side or after drinking. Philosophy: Take shortcuts, ignore risks. Plain irresponsible behaviour”.
When asked to comment on his tweets, the former BJP MP and journalist said that everyone was entitled to their views and that he was not apologetic about his tweets.
“They are not only putting themselves at risk but others too. Walking on foot for so long won’t take them anywhere. So many people being on the road at the same time only increases the risk of coronavirus. They need to understand that,” Punj told ThePrint.
Also read: Centre committed all support to migrant workers during lockdown: Home Minister Amit Shah
Punj’s tweets criticised widely
Many condemned Punj’s comments, calling them anti-poor.
Tarun Vijay, chairman of Uttarakhand war memorial and former editor of RSS weekly Panchajanya also criticised Punj. “No no no. In times of pain and suffering they feel for their near and dear ones”, he said. Vijay added that everyone wants to rush back to their families in times of fear.
No no no. In times of pain and suffering they feel for their near and dear ones. None went to them to explain and provide shelter, food. The first name in times of fear and Dukh comes on our lips is name of mother,sister,kids.This pull makes them come on roads to rush back Home.
— Tarun Vijay தருண் விஜய் भारत के वीर सैनिकों की जय (@Tarunvijay) March 28, 2020
Many Congress leaders also criticised Punj’s remarks. Former MP Kirti Azad lashed out at Punj and said that unlike the latter, the migrants did not have “easy access” to luxuries.
Shame on u. r they walking 1000 kms w/o water food for chutti? Why, just because u r comfortable at home and have easy access to luxuries & basic needs. Its the same for them. I hope u paying ur migrant domestic help & not abandoned them?#GOI must help @PMOIndia #COVIDIOTS
— Kirti Azad (@KirtiAzaad) March 28, 2020
Former Rajya Sabha MP Shahid Siddiqui called out Punj’s “insensitivity and arrogance”.
I know Balbir but never thought he is so dumb, insensitive and heartless. I think it’s arrogance of power which makes a person so insensitive & dumb. https://t.co/vIa0wom3Zs
— shahid siddiqui (@shahid_siddiqui) March 28, 2020
There were many others who were also critical of what they termed as the double standards of the government in rescuing the NRIs through special flights and not doing anything for the poor.
Journalist Ashutosh tweeted that while the government sent special flights to rescue Indians trapped abroad, they are being highly irresponsible towards the poor in the country. “This reveals their ideology,” he added.
बलबीर पुंज बीजेपी/संघ के सदस्य हैं।सरकार विदेशों में फँसे भारतीयों को लाने के लिये विशेष विमान भेजती है। देश के ग़रीबों को ये ग़ैरज़िम्मेदार बताते हैं। बीजेपी सरकारें इन ग़रीबों के लिये विशेष विमान क्यों नहीं भेजती! ये विचारधारा की मानसिकता है। @balbirpunj @ajitanjum @INCIndia https://t.co/OKQakMCpSm
— ashutosh (@ashutosh83B) March 28, 2020
While Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi didn’t react to the comment directly, she posted pictures of the relief work being done by the party workers to assist the migrant labourers.
अनिश्चितता, भय, भूख और पीड़ा के इस माहौल में हजारों हिंदुस्तानियों के कदम अपने गाँवों की ओर निकल पड़े हैं। मुझे गर्व है उप्र कांग्रेस के @VirendraGudduIN टुक्कीमल खटिक, मिथुन त्यागी, मुकेश धनगर @SChaudharyINC और उन सभी साथियों पर जो संकट की इस घड़ी में लोगों की मदद कर रहे हैं। pic.twitter.com/zxKLbGd4E0
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) March 28, 2020
However, there were many who agreed with Punj as his tweet received more than 2,000 likes.
Responding to the criticism, Punj tweeted, “I may be accused of being anti poor. Fact is migrant labour hs behaved irresponsibly.PM asked all to stay put where ever they were.With nothing to do in Delhi they thought of catching up with their families or errands back home .They didn’t realise gravity of situation. Sad.”
Also read: Stranded & with no jobs due to Covid-19 lockdown, labourers head home on foot, govt buses
No stranger to controversy
This is not the first time Punj has found himself in the middle of a controversy. In 2012, his comments favouring then-chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi created a stir and led to BJP ally Janata Dal (United) attacking the party over his comments.
Punj had said that Modi was a “cent per cent prime ministerial material” and had even indicated that the latter was not communal as had been perceived. Sharad Yadav, who was the JD(U) chief then, had criticised the BJP for Punj’s remarks.
Punj was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2000 and was re-elected in 2006. He also served as the BJP’s Gujarat in-charge in 2012 and is considered to be close to the RSS.
In 2013, he was promoted as one of the national vice-presidents of the BJP but was dropped in 2014 when Amit Shah formed his own team as the party president.
Born in Lalowal, Gurdaspur in Punjab, Punj started his career in journalism with the publication Motherland in 1971 and worked for The Financial Express from 1974 to 1996.
Punj has also served as the chairman of the National Commission for Youth from 2002-2004 and was a member of the Committee on External Affairs in August 2012.
Also read: ‘Better to die with families’ — no food or money, Delhi migrants prefer the long walk home
Sir , Punj it not like as “नोट बंदी ” . In lock down all diversified authorities had to give bread & butter earners to – time ,shelter , food , Govt. package etc. before announcement then we were felt better quarantine status than happing . We should have done best picking Corona ‘s patients who came in India
A heart less idiot .if he know the sufferings of starvation he might not have commented like this.This type of people will ensue the defeat of BJP.
Punj is right and I fully support his statement. At this time the workers are not going to get a better enviorment at their native homem
Can all these bleeding hearts who criticize Balbir Punj deny that the migrant workers trekking back are posing great risk to themselves, their fellow travellers and their home towns? Do the poor have higher right to act irresponsibly. Delhi government has promised them place to stay and food. Why should these people ignore such offer?
If promises were horses, beggars would ride. If all the promises of the politicians were implemented, then Mera Bharat would be Ram Rajya.
Mr. Balpur bunk is staying with his family nd may be God blessed with good weath. We are happy butWhat about the daily wagers working faraway fr their home towns .how they feel about their families safety in their home towns.Atleast the govt should provide free buses as one time measure to reach their destination This is the humble request to our honourable P.M in this time. Family seperation is worst than corona infection. It is a similar problem now we are facing in all states. God pls save our people ,our country nd the entire world from this critical times….
Surely some people are living in Ivory Tower. Punj saheb, please recall the plight of the exodus of people post India-Pak Independance. None had the slightest inkling whether they would reach their destination but it was the spirit of never say die that kept them going. Let us recall our history and take cue from it. Can we be little considerate for those who are not well off ?
I wonder why migrant labour is leaving Delhi only walking all the way? There are equal number or more labour in Bengaluru, Chennai, Kerala, J&K. Why such a commotion has not happened at those places? Why only at Delhi?
What about senior citizens who are sick n vulnerable who are stranded at various places they should be allowed to get back to their homes. They may be permitted as special cases otherwise it increase risk of infection.
Senior citizen with history of critical ailments stranded may be permitted to travel to home town.
Dear Balbir Sir, just one question for you to get to the situation they are in.
Have you ever been in your life to an NGO for getting food for the family and yourself in a long queue line ?
If yes, then please think of that flashback and you’ll get the answer why they are on foot without food to be with their root.
If no, then you’re not eligible to comment over anything or utter a single letter against them. Cuz to feel for them you need to be like them first. Everyone in our country isn’t born with a golden spoon population of less than 10%
Educated but not civilized. Parents might be feeling shame on their beloved son’s tweets
This central Gov just don’t take any blame after doing blunders. The world saw how community spread started in Italy and Iran at the start of March. Everyone saw it coming. They had 20 days to take a decision on lockdown before community spread started in India. Did the gov not know how many percent of Indian’s work on daily wages and. What planning the Central gov did for daily wagers ? No planning. Same situation was created while notebandi. Back then poor people were in lines for ATM now they are in the line for buses.
The right question to ask is “What planning the Kejriwal gov did for poor workers as he is the CM of Delhi.?” But AAPPees can never take responsibilities as they have always been activists and would remain like that. They always look towards the central government for doing job they are supposed to do. Why not good for nothing CM Kejriwal resign immediately? More Kejriwal remains the CM of Delhi morethe Delhiites would feel betrayed.
As usual, journalist Mr. Ashutosh makes no sense at all.
One has to agree with Mr. Punj on this issue. What is it that the migrant workers are going home for? Jobs await them there? Money awaits them there? They will be just as much penniless and jobless back in the village. So why go to the village? What purpose does it serve?
On each news channel, doctors are explaining 24*7 how the virus spreads from one person to another. Till now, thankfully, it is limited to the cities. Our cities have much better health infrastructure and highly skilled medical personnel to take care of the sick.
These migrant labourers are sure to carry the disease with them to remote villages of UP and Bihar which may not even have a hospital. What, till now, has been an urban disease will rapidly spread to the rural areas because of this mass migration.
The migrant labourers are just an irresponsible bunch. Instead of condemning Mr. Punj for being “heartless” people must see the rationale of his opinions and arguments. The last thing we need now is political mudslinging over this issue. A logical and rational approach is the need of the hour to deal with the crisis.
The same reason wealthy NRIs flew back to India in Boeing 787s using taxpayer’s money.
“SATTYA GAYA HAi” aptly fits Balbir Punj.
In this instance Balbir Punj has definitely gone wrong. He should immediately apologise to thousands of poor workers who definitely knows what is good for them and the nation. It’s not workers but Delhi government’s failure to anticipate the situation and take pre emptive actions.
Standard bhakt diversionary tactic. Blame others when it is clear that their fearless leaders completely botched the execution of something that needed to be done.
If Kejriwal is not poor workers’ leader in Delhi, he should resign immediately. Kejriwal is CM of Delhi but he always looks towards Modi for performing. AAPPees are worthless in times of emergencies. Like cowards they fire from anonymous shoulders.
Bhakts write under fake names. It is quite clear that your bosses botched up big time and are using trolls to divert attention. Who is responsible for law and order in Delhi? Why wasn’t the question of essential supplies not thought through? And the plight of migrant workers is not only in Delhi – it is across the country. Bhakts won’t have answers. They only blame everyone but themselves.
Truth of the matter is, their “fearless” leaders are cowards like the proverbial ostrich who buries its head in sand in the time of danger.
No one is walking hundreds of kilometres, along with children and the elderly, thinking this is the Annapurna Base Camp Trek. No proper shelter or toilet facilities, not enough food. These are desperate people who had fallen off the radar when the national lockdown was announced. It is with great difficulty that some state governments have been shamed into providing skeletal bus services. I have read of two hit and run accidents where some of these people have been killed, despite traffic being so sparse. We all claim to have been conceived on the couch of humility. However, it does not take long to sink with a sigh on an overstuffed sofa in a football field sized drawing room, watching Ramayana on a 60 inch TV screen. Aap sab bhi ghar mein baith kar chill karo na, hamari tarah.
According to Mr. Punj’s logic, foreign travellers should be prosecuted as they brought the disease to India. Why should a person stay in an alien land without any income and without food?
This fellow has clearly not evolved to normal emotional levels. He displays the bizarre heartless-ness that some of the well-off in India display – which explains a lot of ills in our society, including the abject poverty despite an abundance of talent and resources.
Balbir Punj is only showing his crudeness through such comments. Tarun Vijay has answered him very aptly. Misery causes sadness, and when we are sad we want to huddle together with people we love and those who love us in return. This man Punj even looks ugly to me, from the photo at the top of this article. Does he have the guts to tell Modi that he should have uttered some words of solace during his speech, some reassurance to the poor among us, who by the very terseness of their circumstances tend to fall pray to fears quickly and need some words of kindness? Punj is a mean man even by BJP standards. (I am pleasantly surprised by Tarun Vijay’s rejoinder, who I think is an RSS man?)
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