by Abantika Ghosh
Opposition parties slammed the Narendra Modi government in the Lok Sabha Sunday over its handling of the Covid-19 crisis — “unplanned” lockdown, rising number of cases, migrant crisis and the debilitating effect of all this on the economy.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor led the opposition charge, opening the discussion with scathing criticism of what he alleged was the government’s propensity to take one-sided decisions without consulting stakeholders and betraying the basic tenets of a deliberative democracy.
“Among the countries of the world, some were able to get on top of the virus and controlled it effectively, others managed either to keep the economy going or to control the virus,” Tharoor said. “We are the poster child of the worst case scenario — we are the only ones that managed neither the economy nor the virus. We have the GDP shrinking, we locked down at 564 cases and are opening up at 54 lakh cases.”
He added that the pandemic has finally given the “government an excuse to hide its face”.
As the first speaker from the treasury benches, BJP MP Kirit Solanki unwittingly ended up endorsing Tharoor’s allegation — of the government relying on unilateral decisions — as he credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “single-handedly leading the battle”.
The charge that the government refused to consult states was a running theme throughout the discussion.
COVID Crisis took back-seat
DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran was among those who alleged that the Modi government had not taken the states and the nation into confidence. He made repeated sarcastic references to the “Sanghis” who burst crackers in March to celebrate the defeat of the virus and those who flocked to the streets to laud the work being done by healthcare workers.
Maran went on to accuse the government of jeopardising the entire nation in order to “topple the Madhya Pradesh government and so that the prime minister can get his photo opportunity with US President Donald Trump”.
Maran was referring to the US President’s visit in February when a crowd gathered at Motera Stadium for the ‘Namaste Trump’ event. He also highlighted the government’s unwillingness to call off the second leg of the Budget Session in March despite apprehensions and asking Rajya Sabha members to leave the House for wearing masks.
“Whenever the PM comes at 8 pm, bad news follows,” Maran said. “The lockdown was imposed with no strategic planning, states were unaware and chaos ensued. He asked people to clap and light lamps and a minister coined the term ‘Go Corona go’, ending up promoting English. But corona did not go.”
Maran also said reducing salaries of MPs would send the message to private companies to impose similar pay cuts.
Congress MP Karti Chidambaram, a Covid-19 survivor, called the Rs 20 lakh crore “Covid package” a “complete maya (illusion)”.
PM should lead again
Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant urged the prime minister to “continue to lead” and “not leave the states in the lurch”.
“You were giving us PPE kits and ventilators earlier,” Sawant said. “I don’t know what happened but you have now stopped that and are also refusing to give the GST compensation due to us…but you should check the status of the ventilators you gave earlier.”
Sawant recounted how the four-hour notice for lockdown on 24 March brought milling crowds on to the streets of Mumbai “throwing social distancing to the winds immediately”.
“If you had given time, people would have been able to decide what to do and not died while having a meal on railway tracks. PM asked us to do taali and thali and we did that because we had faith on him. But look what happened,” Sawant added.
Dr S.T. Hasan of Samajwadi Party made an impassioned plea for the import of the Russian vaccine. Dr Amol Kolhe of NCP said Indians withstood extreme hardships and clapped and banged thalis because of their “faith in the prime minister”.
“Look what happened after that. The pandemic didn’t end and our countrymen are scared. We are the second country in the world on deaths and cases. I want to know whether the country is in community transmission or not? If the answer is yes, all government policies have failed. It the answer is no then how do we have a lakh cases per day,” Kolhe said.
BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri congratulated the country for having “a PM with foresight that ensured that the world was shattered by COVID but India stayed put”.
“Home minister Amit Shah despite being diabetic went himself to Lok Nayak Hospital for a first hand inspection,” Bidhuri said.
Article first published on ThePrint.
Abantika Ghosh is a journalist at The Print. She writes on health and politics. She tweets under @abantika77.