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Sanitation workers have been protesting non payment of salaries since June 2. They represent some of the poorest people in the country, it is therefore no wonder that they will be up in arms when the government withholds their livelihood. When Maggi was banned, the media went in to a frenzy. Days, if not weeks, of prime air time were spent debating and scrutinising every detail of the case. Why is it that some stories spread like wild fire whereas others — which many will consider to be more important — fizzle away with a half-hearted mention and barely manage a scrawl on the bottom ticker.

Middle class sensibilities may have a lot to do with it. Being the largest market audience for most network stations, the stories that appeal to them will be the ones aired. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Maggi story was harped on for so long. On the other hand, sanitation workers going on strike for well over 10 days is not a sexy enough story idea and will, therefore, not garner the same attention.

The sanitation workers used what little power they had to disgruntle local residents by throwing garbage on the streets and refusing to clear it, resulting in East Delhi becoming a massive pile of trash.

The municipal corporations in-charge of paying salaries and organising the workers, come under the purview of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. They have also fallen into the centre vs state abyss, battling it out and accusing Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of not releasing funds.

Arvind Kejriwal met with some of the sanitation workers on June 8 at a rally in Ramlila Maidan where senior officials of the civic bodies were also present.

"Yes, many of the workers are angry with the AAP government. Since, it has not been releasing the global shares and municipal reform funds due to the civic bodies, which could have been used for paying salaries," a senior official of the North Corporation said. "We are expecting some announcements from the Delhi government today in this regard," he added.

Both the civic bodies, North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) have been suffering financial losses and are under huge debt.

At his rally, Kejriwal promised that Rs 500 crore would be released to the corporations to pay for salaries. However, corporation officials say the funds are yet to be received.

Garbage Politics

Late morning on June 12, the top story of the day was the strike of the sanitation workers. However, instead of anything to do with them, it was more like throwing the limelight on partisan politics.

Rahul Gandhi, the Congress scion, decided it was the right time to join the dharna brigade. On the morning of June 12, he met with the striking sanitation workers in East Delhi and assured them of his support for their war over their wages. He decided to sit on a dharna with them outside EDMC headquarters in Patparganj.

Addressing the workers, Gandhi said the AAP-ruled Delhi Government and the BJP-led Centre had been passing the buck over releasing funds to the financially unstable municipalities.

The Hindu quoted him saying, " You won’t get the solution by asking the government. It will happen by showing your strength. I will sit on dharna with you if you want for 10 days. We must show the strength of safai karamcharis ".

His opposition is hardly surprised and slightly amused by the sudden empathy for the karamcharis . Delhi BJP president Satish Upadhyay called him out on 'just playing politics'.

He also wanted to remind Gandhi that it was in fact the Congress party that curtailed the powers of the municipal corporations.

Gandhi's interest in this cause may come from a good place, after all he has championed the poor, most of his political career. However, insisting that the only way to get any thing done is to sit on a dharna , is clearly a leaf out of Kejriwal's book. A book that has not been entirely beneficial to the latter.

Coming back to the foremost point, the sanitation workers strike was trending all day. News channels picked it, the Twitterati were in a frenzy and all in all the media suddenly cared. However, the reason behind this half baked concern, has a lot more to do with Gandhi stepping up to the plate than the actual plight of the poor.

Following Gandhi's dharna the Delhi High Court asked the Kejriwal government to release the pending salaries of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) workers by June 15, even as Delhi LG Najeeb Jung assured MCD mayors that the crisis would be resolved and that Rs 493 crore will be released by Friday itself.

(With inputs from PTI)

Feature image source: PTI