Kanpur/Lucknow/Fatehpur: Kanpur resident Ankit Verma, was hysterical with grief and worry, when the ThePrint caught up with him outside the city’s Kanshiram Memorial Trauma Centre, on 29 April.
The 30-year-old had just returned home an hour back, after delivering food for his elder brother, 34-year-old Arpit – undergoing treatment for Covid at the hospital – when he received a call from the facility informing him that his brother was no more. The two had lost their mother to Covid three days back.
Verma had rushed back to the hospital, which is a government Covid treatment facility, after receiving the call about his brother’s death, but had received no further updates.
The staff at the trauma centre, which has been closed to general public to allow treatment for Covid patients, had told Verma that they will find out the status of his brother and inform him.
“But since then they have shut the door and are not taking my calls either,” a broken Verma told ThePrint.
“I have called the hospital medical superintendent, the district magistrate, our member of Parliament (MP) and Legislative Assembly (MLA). Nobody responded. Is this why we elected these MPs and MLAs? You won’t see any politician standing in support of the people when they are needed most.”
Verma is not alone in questioning the almost complete absence of the political class from the ground in Covid-stricken Uttar Pradesh. ThePrint, while travelling across cities and villages of eastern UP, including Gorakhpur and Allahabad, heard similar sentiments expressed by people crowding hospitals and cremation grounds. There were repeated complaints of the administration having failed the people and left them to fend for themselves.
UP has been among the worst hit states in the country in the second wave of the Covid pandemic. Multi-phased panchayat elections that concluded last week and migrant workers returning home because of the lockdowns imposed in many states, haVE resulted in an exponential growth in the number of Covid cases, as well as deaths in the state. According to the state health bulletin, UP recorded 31,165 new Covid-19 cases and 357 deaths on 5 May.
“I have not seen any political representative since April, when cases started surging in our district. They just fled the scene. But this is going to backfire. People will not forget the trauma they are going through soon,” said a doctor at a community health centre (CHC) in Allahabad, who did not want to be named.
There’s been growing criticism in Uttar Pradesh about how most politicians from across parties – both ruling and opposition — have been missing in action., since the deadly second wave of Covid brought the state to its knees.
“Hamare neta aur jan pratinidhi abhi kahan hain? Unki zimmedari nahin hain kya ki is vakt logo ke saath khare ho? (Why aren’t any ministers and elected representatives in UP out in the field? Is it not their duty, as elected representatives, to stand with the people in this hour of crisis)?” questioned Bhure Lal, a farm labourer in Fatehpur district’s Khahreru village.
Lal added that every second house in his village has someone who is ill with fever, cough and cold. But most of them have not visited the primary and community health centres to get themselves tested for Covid because, as Lal said, “TheRE is no point… PHC mein kuch nahin hain. [There are no facilities at the PHC].”
A government functionary in Lucknow pointed out that state Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh was spotted taking stock of the situation at a Lucknow hospital after a long time last week.
“How many ministers have you seen visiting hospitals or making rounds of cities and villages to take stock of the on-ground situation?” he said.
The politicians are not unaware of the growing resentment against them, but confess that they too are scared of being infected.
A minister in the UP government, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint that it’s not that ministers are not working. “The CM is holding daily meetings to take stock of the situation. Cabinet ministers have been tasked with different responsibilities and they too are working. But there is fear among the political class too. We are humans… Many of our colleagues have succumbed to Covid. Others have tested positive and are undergoing treatment,” he said, adding, “The elected representatives know that the people are angry. It’s very evident.”
Meanwhile, there is a growing resentment among even BJP MPs and MLAs about the poor Covid management in the state.
‘We too are human’
On Wednesday, another BJP leader and state co-organisation general secretary, Bhavani Singh, succumbed to Covid. On 3 May, UP BJP spokesperson Manoj Mishra had passed away in Kanpur. Last month, three sitting BJP MLAs, Suresh Kumar Srivastava of Lucknow, Kesar Singh Gangwar of Bareilly and Ramesh Chandra Diwakar of Auraiya too had died of Covid
Several ministers, including UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma and various MLAs and MPs have tested positive for Covid and are undergoing treatment or are in the process of recovering from the disease.
After remaining in home isolation, the chief minister tested negative last week, and has started going out again on hospital visits, to take stock of the crisis in the state, said the minister who did not want to be named.
The minister added that the chief minister has also asked his cabinet ministers to be in touch with their constituents and have entrusted them with different responsibilities related to Covid management.
“Other ministers have also started going out. Industrial Development Minister Satish Mahana visited a government hospital in Kanpur on 1 May to inaugurate a vaccination centre,” he said.
Meanwhile, state MSME minister and UP government spokesperson, Sidharth Nath Singh, told ThePrint that just because they were lying low, it did not mean that the people’s elected representatives were not working for them.
“It’s an emotional period for everybody and when emotions are running high, political commentaries should be low,” said Singh,
The minister added, “Our job is to make arrangements to improve things on the ground and as elected representatives, we are committed to doing our job to fight Covid and get all possible help [for the people] to the best of our knowledge and ability.”
Not everyone, though, is hiding behind explanations and a show of virtual and behind-the-scene administration. A few are leading from the front too.
One such is BJP’s Unnao MLA Pankaj Gupta, among the few ruling party politicians who has been working on the ground, arranging oxygen cylinders and medicines for people in his constituency.
“As people’s representatives it is our duty to be with them in this hour of crisis. I have been out on the ground since March. But yes, not many elected representatives, including from our party, are venturing out. There are over 50 MLAs in Kanpur, Unnao and the surrounding districts, but only a handful are coming out to be with the people in their constituencies,” said Gupta.
The MLA admitted there was fear in the the political class of catching the infection, and this was keeping them away from the people. “Many politicians have died after contracting Covid. Even I was infected, but started working again after I tested negative,” he said.
Not just those from the ruling party. Elected representatives and workers from opposition parties, including the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, too have been largely missing in action.
The UP Congress has only recently opened a helpdesk in the state, to help provide oxygen cylinders, medicines and to facilitate the donation of blood plasma [used to treat Covid patients], to those in crisis.
“We opened a helpdesk about 15-days back. Our volunteers are working on the ground, to provide whatever help the people require – from arranging beds in hospitals to providing oxygen cylinders and medicines,” said Ajay Kumar Lallu, president, Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee.
BJP MPs, MLAs too resent Covid mismanagement
Meanwhile, resentment is also brewing among BJP MPs and MLAs over the way the Yogi Adityanath government has handled the Covid situation in the state. More than half-a-dozen BJP MPs and MLAs have written to the UP CM since mid-April when Covid cases started surging in UP, about the suffering of patients owing to the shortage of hospital beds and medical oxygen in the state.
UP cabinet minister Brajesh Pathak, who also holds the law portfolio, was the first one to write a letter to the state government, drawing attention to the failure of the Lucknow administration to ensure beds and oxygen supply to critical patients, which led to mounting casualties.
Meerut BJP MP Rajendra Aggarwal and Mohanlalganj BJP MP Kaushal Kishore have also written to the Yogi government about the shortage of oxygen supply in both private and government hospitals. Kishore had also demanded that the Election Commission cancel the panchayat elections, in view of the Covid crisis in the state.
BJP’s Bhadohi MLA Dinanath Bhaskar in a letter written to CM Yogi Adityanath on 28 April, demanded an investigation against doctors posted at a Covid facility in the district, following the death of BJP leader Lal Bahadur Maurya.
Meanwhile, the despondency among the people is summed up by Bhure Lal, who said, “Pura gaon bimaar hain, lekin kisi ko, neta ya adhikari, koi matlab nahin hain ki humlog zindai hain, ya mar rahen hain. (The whole village is suffering but nobody, politician or officer, is bothered if we villagers live or die).”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)