New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi Tuesday sought to distance his party from the Maharashtra government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, saying it only played a “supporting role” in the state.
“We are not the key decision-makers in Maharashtra, we are key decision-makers in Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Puducherry. There is a difference between running and supporting a government,” Gandhi stated at a press conference.
Gandhi was replying to queries about the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the state, where the Congress is a constituent of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance with the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Maharashtra accounts for the highest number of coronavirus cases in India, with capital Mumbai accounting for the bulk of the cases. As of Tuesday, the state had recorded 52,667 cases, of which over 15,000 have been cured/discharged and 1,695 have died. India’s total stood at 1.45 lakh Tuesday, of which over 60,000 have been cured/discharged and 4,167 have died.
“Maharashtra is struggling because of its nature of connectivity. But it requires full support from the Indian government,” he added. “Maharashtra is fighting a very difficult battle, we must appreciate it… It is the main business centre, it deserves all the help from the Centre.”
The coronavirus situation in Maharashtra was one of several subjects addressed by Rahul Gandhi at the press conference, where he tore into the central government over what he described as a “failed lockdown”.
He also weighed in on India’s recent disputes with neighbours China and Nepal, saying the Modi government needs to be more transparent about it.
‘More transparency on border issues’
India has had tense ties with China and Nepal of late over border-related issues. Gandhi said the government should be more transparent about the nature of the disputes on India’s eastern flank so citizens can have a “proper position” on them.
“I think in China what we would like to see is some more transparency in what is going on. It becomes very difficult for us to have a position without understanding the facts and the government needs to make it clear to the people of India what exactly is happening on the border,” he said.
“We are hearing different stories and I don’t want to go into conjecture. But it is important that the Indian government makes it clear what is happening on the border so that people can understand and have a proper position,” he added.
“The China and India issue is ongoing so I wouldn’t want to speak too much in this press conference. But there is a need for greater transparency for sure.”
Talking about the border dispute with Nepal, which has been seen adopting an aggressive stance over territorial claims regarding three areas, Gandhi said, “You see the border issue, its details, what happened, how did it happen, what has been done, all these details should be provided by the government in a transparent manner. Frankly no one has any clarity on this issue… I am not seeing the transparency the government should show on the issue.”
‘Aim, purpose of lockdown have failed’
He also described the Modi government’s Covid-19 lockdown as a failure. Modi, Gandhi said, has adopted a low-key position since his initial plan to beat the pandemic in 21 days (the first phase of the lockdown lasted from 25 March to 14 April) “failed completely”.
“This has pushed him onto the back foot, but as the leader of the opposition, I would urge him to play on the front foot and tell us what exactly will be the strategy now,” he added. “The people of India want to see the face of the PM during the time of crisis so he needs to aggressively play on the front foot.”
Even the PM will accept, Gandhi said, that his lockdown plan has not helped check the spread of the disease. “Even the PM will accept that his first plan has failed and, after this, he has gone on the back foot,” he added.
Gandhi said the lockdown has failed both in “its aim and purpose and the government needs to urgently work on a future strategy”.
“Two months ago, the PM said that we were going to fight a 21-day war against Covid. It was his expectation that we would defeat the virus in 21 days. Now, we are 60 days and we are the only country in the world where the virus is exponentially rising and we are removing a lockdown,” he added. “So, it is pretty clear that the aim and purpose of the lockdown have failed and we want to understand what is the government’s view while going forward.”
He also alleged that Congress-led states had complained about lack of central support in their struggle against Covid-19. The Congress- governed states, he said, are providing all the required help and financial packages but feeling “lonely and alone” in this battle.
“Our states are giving cash to people including farmers and labourers but we are not getting any support from the Centre. It is becoming extremely difficult for our states to function without adequate support from the Centre,” Gandhi added.
Terming the Rs 21 lakh crore package a disappointment, Gandhi urged the Modi government to infuse more cash into the fight against Covid-19. “Simply put, what we expected from the lockdown has not happened. Disease profile is shooting up in several states. What is the government planning to do about it? States have a strategy but they can’t function without a national government and it is important that there is a cash injection and economic assistance provided at the earliest,” he said.
Gandhi added that he is not going to criticise what happened in the past as he has an interest in “today and what will happen tomorrow”.
The Congress leader said the country needs an “injection of money and capital and it will be fatal if we do not do it”.
He also said that the unemployment situation in the country has only been compounded by the pandemic.
Adityanath’s ‘absurd’ decision
Among other things, Gandhi described as “absurd” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s decision that states looking to employ labourers from UP will need his government’s permission.
“It is unfortunate. I think people are first Indian and then they belong to their states and the decision of whether someone goes to work from UP to rest of the country is not of the CM but people of UP and India,” he added. “If someone wants to go to Maharashtra, Delhi or Karnataka he should have the right to do so. It’s unfortunate that the CM views people in such a manner. It is unfortunate that the UP CM views India in such a way, that they are his personal property or of UP. it is an absurd opinion,” he said.
Gandhi also played down Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s comment describing his interactions with migrant labourers as “drama”.
“My aim is one, I interact with the poor, labourers, migrants and want to understand what is in their heart. If the finance minister wants, I can go to UP, they should allow me and I can go on the road and will help as many people as possible on the way,” he said.
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.