Welcome to Punjab: Badal Jr to migrants | india | Hindustan Times
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Welcome to Punjab: Badal Jr to migrants

Politicians in Maharashtra want to restrict migration to the state but in Punjab, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) welcomes migrants wholeheartedly.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2008 00:37 IST
Varghese K George

Politicians in Maharashtra want to restrict migration to the state but in Punjab, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) welcomes migrants wholeheartedly. “They are welcome. They have helped the growth of Punjab’s economy,” said party president Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Badal’s position is in stark contrast to that of politicians across the spectrum in Maharashtra, who favour control of migrant influx to the industrial state, following a chauvinist campaign started by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray against people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. However, Punjab’s agro-based economy makes it politically convenient for Badal to take such a position.

Nearly 60 per cent of Punjab's rural farm workforce is migrant, most of it drawn from Bihar, UP and Haryana. Its agriculture sector has grown between 15-20 per cent over the last three years and three of the 30 million people in the state are migrants. A reduced inflow of workers from these states last season had Punjab's farmers desperately wooing them.

“Chinese laborers are coming to work in India. What is the point of trying to put a barrier for people from a particular region,” asked Badal. But fringe elements in Punjab, like the Dal Khalsa, have started a campaign to evict migrants from the state.

Badal is also bringing about an image makeover for the 88-year-old party he took over this year. SAD has been a Sikh religious party but Badal, an MBA from California State University, has inducted more Hindus, Muslims and Christians into senior positions. He has declared “Punjabiat” — a secular, regional nationalism — as the ideology of SAD.

Badal, however, thinks the opportunity for migrant labourers may shrink as farmers get more tech-savvy. “Last season’s labour shortage prompted farmers to mechanise more. New mechanical innovations in planting rice are spreading fast and replacing labour,” he said but added: “But manufacturing hubs in towns like Ludhiana can still absorb migrants.”