Mumbai: With Maharashtra seeing a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases, triggering fears of a second wave, authorities are blaming the general public for not taking precautions to contain the spread of the virus, citing this as the reason for a surge in cases.
Some of the blame, however, lies with the ruling parties of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government themselves.
Over the past one month, the Congress as well as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have held on-ground outreach rallies and public gatherings, attracting large crowds, to expand at the grassroots.
At most of these events, there was no social distancing and many present did not even wear masks. Moreover, seven ministers from the Uddhav Thackeray-led cabinet have tested Covid-19 positive in the last 17 days alone.
In his public address Sunday, the CM indirectly rebuked his MVA allies, while prohibiting all political, social and religious gatherings.
“I am requesting all political parties, do me a favour, let us please start from ourselves,” Thackeray said. “From Monday, all political, social and religious processions, rallies, protests that involve crowding, major yatras… We are banning these in the state for the next few days.
“Yes, we want to expand our parties. Everyone has the right to expand their parties,” he added. “I also want to grow my party. My allies also want to grow their parties and the opposition party too wants to expand. But let’s expand our parties and not expand (the prevalence of) Corona.”
The Shiv Sena had planned an outreach in every district called the ‘Shiv Sampark Abhiyan’ from 24 February to 27 February, but the party has for now put its plans on hold.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi government comprises the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress.
Seven ministers Covid positive in 17 days
Other than official party campaigns, ministers had also extensively toured the state in the last month.
The heightened political activity has led to at least seven ministers testing positive for Covid in the last 17 days, with one of them, Omprakash alias Bacchu Kadu, an Independent MLA and a junior minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led cabinet, contracting the virus for the second time.
Kadu belongs to the Amravati district, which has emerged as a new Covid hotspot in Maharashtra, and is guardian minister for the Akola district. Both Amravati and Akola districts are suspected to have new strains of the virus and the state public health department is awaiting test results on samples from these districts.
State Home Minister Anil Deshmukh was the first from the Thackeray cabinet to get Covid this month. Before testing positive, NCP’s Deshmukh was on a tour of east Vidarbha, holding meetings and reviews, as well as participating in his party’s ‘Rashtrawadi Parivar Samvad Yatra,’ the first phase of which was launched last month. It covered Vidarbha and North Maharashtra.
NCP state president Jayant Patil led the campaign and travelled across 14 districts in 17 days, addressing large gatherings and meeting party workers. On 18 February, Patil, who holds the water resources portfolio, tested Covid positive after concluding the ‘Samvad yatra’ on 13 February.
On 12 February, former BJP leader Eknath Khadse, who joined the NCP last year, met Patil at Muktainagar, in Jalgaon. Khadse, who had been infected by Covid once last year, too tested Covid positive a second time on the same day as Patil.
Similarly, NCP ministers Ravindra Shingne, Rajesh Tope and Chhagan Bhujbal, and Congress’ Satej Patil have also tested positive from the Thackeray cabinet.
Like the NCP’s ‘Samvad yatra,’ the Congress has held several protest rallies in the past few days.
On 18 February, MLA Praniti Shinde and members of Congress’ women’s wing led a packed protest march in Thane against fuel price hike. The same day, newly-elected Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole led a tractor rally and padayatra (rally on foot) in Bhandara district.
Patole had also held a tractor rally in Mumbai the day he took charge as the state Congress president this month. Similarly, the Mumbai unit of the Congress has been holding rallies in various pockets of the city under its ‘100 days, 100 wards’ programme of reaching out to voters.
While the opposition BJP hasn’t held any major rally in this period, it hasn’t really promoted responsible Covid-19 behaviour either. The party had cited the Congress’ 18 February tractor rally to pressurise the chief minister to remove restrictions for Shiv Jayanti, to commemorate the birth anniversary of Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, which fell on 19 February.
‘It seemed like Covid was under control’
The parties are defending themselves on the grounds that they did nothing unusual as they felt that Covid was under control.
“The state government was taking stock of the situation from time to time and granting relaxations,” Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said. “We even came to the point where we started local trains, so slowly people resumed their regular activities, and political parties did so too. The number of Covid cases were also falling in the state.
“We had told people to strictly abide by the rules, wear masks, maintain distance. At some places it was followed. But we need to take care,” he added.
Nawab Malik, an NCP minister and a party spokesperson, said, “Every party had on-ground rallies. We planned it because at that time the situation seemed under control with regard to Covid. Also, we planned for a limited number of people, but the turnout was much higher. For now, we have suspended all party activities.”
The NCP has moved its “janta durbar,” where ministers sit in the party office to meet visitors and address any grievances, online. Moreover, NCP president Sharad Pawar and his daughter, Supriya Sule, MP from Baramati, have cancelled all their tours and social engagements.
Sawant said the Congress too has called off all public programmes after CM Thackeray’s directives.
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