New Delhi: A video meeting between Arvind Kejriwal and MPs from the national capital on Covid-19 Wednesday turned into a blame game, with the Delhi Chief Minister alleging non-cooperation from the police in tracing Tablighi Jamaat members and BJP parliamentarians questioning his claims about feeding 10 lakh people and also the quality of the food being served to the poor.
The meeting took place a day after the AAP government announced a five-point action plan, which included one lakh blood tests in hotspots to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Apart from Kejriwal, the meeting featured 10 MPs — seven BJP members of the Lok Sabha, and three Rajya Sabha MPs from the AAP.
The BJP MPs demanded that the CM issue an appeal to all Tablighi Jamaat members who are in Delhi to come out and cooperate with the administration within 24 hours, or else, strict action should be taken against them.
Sources told ThePrint that North-East Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari, West Delhi’s Parvesh Verma and New Delhi’s Meenakshi Lekhi told Kejriwal that this was not the time to play politics, and an appeal should be made to ensure all those who are “hiding” surrender themselves.
Verma confirmed this in conversation with ThePrint. “I told Kejriwal that as the chief minister of Delhi, he should come out and make an appeal to ensure all those who attended the Nizamuddin Markaz event come forward and cooperate with the administration,” he said.
“They should be given 24 hours to surrender, otherwise strict action should be taken against them, as they are risking the lives of so many. At the same time, today is Shab-e-Barat. Shouldn’t he issue an appeal asking people to respect the lockdown and stay inside?”
Kejriwal seems to have responded to Verma’s last point by tweeting out an appeal for Muslims to stay home on Shab-e-Barat Wednesday evening.
शब-ए-बरात के मौके पर सभी को मुबारकबाद। आप सब से मेरी गुजारिश है की इस साल अपने अपने घरों से ही इबादत करें, अपनी और अपने परिवार की हिफाज़त करें।
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) April 8, 2020
Kejriwal blames police
On the point about Tablighi Jamaat members, Kejriwal said later in the meeting that the AAP government has provided the Delhi Police with around 2,000 phone numbers of those who continued to roam the streets and markets, posing a serious threat to others, but has received no response.
“Considering you have raised the Jamaat issue, I just wanted to point out that we have given a list of 2,000 phone numbers of all those who continued to go out after the event. But so far, the police have not responded,” Kejriwal said, according to sources.
“Through the phone numbers, we want details of where these people visited in the last 14-15 days, so that we can seal such areas and verify whether they are healthy or not by going door-to-door. We have also given a list of 21,000 people who are quarantined in the capital. The Delhi Police needs to help us,” the CM was quoted as saying.
Meeting ‘minus politics’ didn’t go as planned
While it was supposed to be a meeting minus politics, it was politics alone that played out throughout the interaction.
The parliamentarians asked Kejriwal to provide them a list of the community kitchens where food for the needy is being prepared. At the same time, Tiwari, Verma and others questioned the quality of food being provided.
They also said that since the Delhi government’s servers are down, people who did not have ration cards and had to procure an e-coupon were unable to do so, and hence, were denied food.
Kejriwal then asked for a list of places where food quality was not good, and said an inspection will be carried out. AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh was asked to provide the list of community kitchens to the MPs.
Argument over funds
North-East Delhi MP Tiwari asked the CM to consider utilising all the MLAs’ funds to fight the novel coronavirus, following the example of the MPLADS fund, which has been earmarked specifically for that purpose by the Narendra Modi government.
“We have already given our MP funds for two years for the coronavirus fight, and I’ve asked if MLAs can also be persuaded to do that. The chief minister was open to the idea and has said he will discuss it with the MLAs,” said Tiwari.
Meanwhile, AAP’s Rajya Sabha MPs raised the issue of funds not being released to the Delhi government by the Modi government, to which the BJP MPs responded by raising the issue the Delhi government not releasing funds to the municipal corporations of Delhi, which their party controls.
Sushil Kumar Gupta, AAP MP, told ThePrint that he asked CM Kejriwal to request PM Modi to give Delhi a share from the Rs 1.72 lakh crore economic relief package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last month.
“Delhi is among the states worst-affected by Covid-19. The Centre should make available more financial resources for the city-state,” Gupta said.
He also said he made the request to the BJP MPs because, “in a way, they represent the Centre”.
“I told them that the Centre’s decision to suspend MPLADS for two years is a good decision, but they should request the PM that money from the MPLADS fund should only be spent in the state that the respective MP represents,” Gupta said.
But one of the BJP MPs said on the condition of anonymity that Rs 2,578 crore has been given by the Centre for four key schemes, including Jan Dhan and Ujjwala. “That money has gone directly into the accounts of the beneficiaries, so what funds are they talking about?”
Gambhir follows up on Twitter spat
East Delhi MP Gautam Gambhir, who got into an argument with Kejriwal on Twitter a few days ago on the issue of PPE kits and preparation of hospitals for a spike in cases, followed it up with suggestions in the meeting.
“You had said I should provide the details of the PPE kit vendors, which I have done already, so please try and procure it as soon as possible. These PPE kits are important for doctors, para-medical staff, municipal staff,” Gambhir reportedly told the CM.
“I have also raised the issue of waiving off two months’ electricity bills for small businesses across Delhi post lockdown,” the former cricketer said.
AAP’s Gupta also gave a suggestion to Kejriwal to ensure that supply of essential commodities is smooth. “There are still issues there,” he said, adding that he also asked the CM to ramp up supply of PPE kits.
According to sources, Kejriwal did praise PM Modi for announcing the nationwide lockdown “at the right time”, saying had he not done that, cases would have spiked. He also praised the work done by other states, especially Kerala, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.