Kolkata: Much like the rest of the country, West Bengal is in the midst of a raging Covid pandemic. As of 11 September, the state has 23,377 active cases, and it has been registering 3,000 new cases every day, which points to the severity of the situation.
Only, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh seems to think otherwise.
Addressing a public rally in Dhaniakhali, Ghosh declared West Bengal “coronavirus-free”, and said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was enforcing restrictions only to stop his party from campaigning for the 2021 assembly elections.
“Corona has gone,” Ghosh said at the rally on 9 September. “This lockdown is just an eyewash by Didimoni (Mamata Banerjee) to stop BJP from holding meetings. No one can stop us now.”
The rally had drawn thousands of people to the venue in Dhaniakhali, part of Hooghly district that ranks fifth in the state in terms of Covid caseload. The district has so far recorded 9,447 cases and 160 deaths.
After his comments caused a furore, Ghosh, however, told ThePrint that he was “quoted out of context” by the local media, but still maintained that rural Bengal was Covid-free.
“I always tell my workers to wear masks and abide by protocol. They (the media) have just taken my lines out of context for their own interests,” he said.
He insisted that the novel coronavirus was just an urban phenomenon. “Every day, our workers are getting killed or injured. We have to protest. We cannot sit at home,” Ghosh said. “Moreover, we are organising rallies at villages that are corona-free.”
Bengal in election mode
Reacting to Ghosh’s comments, Trinamool MP Dr Shantanu Sen said the BJP never wanted the country to be “corona free”.
Mamata has also said on several occasions that “some political parties” are not complying with Covid guidelines, and organising public programmes flouting all norms.
“They always want to thrive in a crisis. All steps including their approval to allow migrant movement, delay in suspension of international flight operations, forming government in Madhya Pradesh, and now allowing 100 people at public rallies show how they are playing with people’s lives,” Sen said.
“We have a chief minister like Mamata Banerjee. She is working tirelessly to save the state. Otherwise, Bengal also would have become Maharastra or Uttar Pradesh,” he added.
About Ghosh’s rally and the massive turnout, Sen said, “They (the BJP) do not pay heed to requests by the administration. They have huge money and muscle power. People of Bengal should see and think what would be the situation if they come to power.”
Ghosh, however, said it was the ruling Trinamool that was violating all protocols and holding rallies.
“This was the first public rally that we organised in Dhaniakhali,” he said. “Trinamool organised many such rallies, but they do not want us to hold meetings.”
Ghosh, the rabble-rouser
The state BJP president is known to shoot his mouth off, often landing him in controversy and keeping him in the headlines.
In January this year, the Trinamool lodged two police complaints against him in Nadia and North 24 Parganas districts for his comment that anti-CAA protesters “would be shot” like they were in Uttar Pradesh.
A known rabble-rouser, Ghosh keeps making sensational comments, and gets away with them most of the time.
Addressing a workers’ programme in July, he said drinking cow urine would save people from Covid infection as it builds immunity.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.