New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has expressed strong reservations against the Narendra Modi government’s complete lockdown in the country and its impact on India’s poorer sections even as he expressed solidarity with the PM in a letter Sunday.
Writing to Modi, the former Congress president urged the PM to seriously consider the “potentially devastating impact” of a nationwide lockdown “on our people, our society and our economy”.
While seeking shelter and funds for stranded migrant labourers, Gandhi said the three-week lockdown will not only deprive a section of society but may also result in an increase in the death toll.
“It is critical for us to understand that India’s conditions are unique. We will be required to take different steps than other large countries who are following a total lockdown strategy. The number of poor people in India who are dependent on a daily income is simply too large for us to unilaterally shut down all economic activity,” Gandhi said.
“The consequences of a complete economic shut down will disastrously amplify the death toll arising from the Covid-19 virus,” he added.
Expressing his solidarity and the solidarity of millions of workers of the Congress party at this time, when our nation is facing an immense humanitarian crisis, Congress MP Shri @RahulGandhi ji wrote a letter to Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi : pic.twitter.com/cIrwtxaU3r
— AICC Communications (@AICCMedia) March 29, 2020
Even as Gandhi welcomed the Rs 1.7-lakh crore relief package announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as a “good first step”, he urged the government to follow a “nuanced approach that takes the complex realities of our people into consideration”.
While the Congress leader didn’t mention anything about an extension to the lockdown duration in his letter, an official statement from the the communication unit of the party attributed this line to him while sharing the letter’s text: “I suspect that the government will eventually extend this even further”.
On migrant labourers
Over the last few days, both Rahul Gandhi and his sibling and party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have been critical of the Modi government’s treatment of migrant labourers who are stranded in several parts of the country, particularly Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
दिल्ली के बॉर्डर पर त्रासद स्थिति पैदा हो चुकी है। हजारों की संख्या में लोग पैदल अपने घरों की तरफ निकल पड़े हैं। कोई साधन नहीं, भोजन नहीं।
कोरोना का आतंक, बेरोजगारी और भूख का भय इनके पैरों को घर गाँव की ओर धकेल रहा है।
मैं सरकार से प्रार्थना करती हूँ कृपया इनकी मदद कीजिए। pic.twitter.com/3vsfPDkOpS
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) March 27, 2020
With hundreds of such labourers heading back to their villages, Gandhi in his letter said the priority “must be to protect and isolate the elderly and vulnerable from the virus and to clearly and strongly communicate to the young the dangers of proximity to older people”.
Stressing the need for better communication, Gandhi said millions of India’s senior citizens live in villages and will be at great risk from the migrant population returning there.
“Millions of India’s elderly live in villages. A complete lockdown and the resulting shut down of our economic engine will almost certainly ensure that millions of unemployed youth rush back to their villages, increasing the risk of infecting their parents and the elderly population living there. This will result in a catastrophic loss of life,” he argued.
He also urged the prime minister to strengthen the social safety net and use “every public resource we have to support and shelter the working poor”.
Emphasising that the lockdown has resulted in utter panic and confusion, especially among the economically weaker sections, Gandhi suggested that the government should provide them shelter and transfer funds directly in their bank accounts.
“The sudden lockdown has created immense panic and confusion. Factories, small industries and construction sites have closed, tens of thousands of migrant labourers are trying to walk home to their villages and are stranded at various state borders. They are rendered totally vulnerable without their daily wages or access to nutrition and basic services. They are struggling to reach far away homes and seek refuge,” he said.
“It is important that we help them find shelter and provide them with money directly into their bank accounts to help them tide over the next few months,” added Gandhi.
His suggestion comes a year after the Congress manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 promised a minimum monthly sum for India’s economically weaker sections.
‘More tests needed’
Commenting on the current infrastructure to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, Rahul Gandhi said that large population centres will require big dedicated hospitals with thousands of beds and ventilators.
“It is critical that we start setting up these structures and manufacturing the equipment that would be required, as fast as is humanly possible. At the same time we need to dramatically increase the number of tests that we are carrying out to get an accurate picture of the spread of the virus and to contain it,” he added.
Gandhi, who had warned the government that it was not doing enough to tackle coronavirus threat in February, also highlighted the adverse impact the lockdown would have on the economy.
The Corona Virus is an extremely serious threat to our people and our economy. My sense is the government is not taking this threat seriously.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 12, 2020
“It is also absolutely critical that we set up a defensive wall around our key financial and strategic institutions to protect them from the shock wave that is bound to come as the true impact of the virus and our economic shutdown hits us a few weeks from now.
“Our informal economy and immense network of small and medium businesses and farmers are going to be vital to any rebuilding effort. It is crucial that we engage them in a conversation, build their confidence and protect their interests with correct and timely action,” he said.