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‘States did it first’: Modi justifies 2020 Covid lockdown, denies govt agencies misused for polls

In interview with ANI a day before UP elections, PM Narendra Modi speaks on issues including dynastic politics, farm laws, and BJP’s poll prospects.

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New Delhi: States had started imposing lockdowns “first” and, therefore, the need arose for a national lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Wednesday in an interview with news agency ANI, seeking to justify the Centre’s decision to impose a stringent lockdown nationwide on 24 March 2020 to fight against the coronavirus.

It’s the first time that the PM has cited the actions of states as a factor behind his decision to impose the lockdown, which caused enormous economic hardships, and triggered an exodus of migrants from metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

“At the time of the Covid epidemic, the WHO had said that one should stay where they are. Also, at that time, no one had any idea of the shape and form Covid-19 would take. Amid the chaos, states had started imposing lockdowns. If one state was doing it, then another followed. And hence a need arose to do something nationally,” he said.

Saying that “these people” — critics such as Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee — had forgotten this, Modi added, “Lockdowns were started first by states. The Centre had to take a decision about a lockdown later on, to improve the situation.”

Modi also defended his statement in Parliament Monday that the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had misled migrant labourers in 2020, causing them to rush home and triggering a crisis.

“The Congress motivated people to leave by giving tickets to them. Although they gave tickets to merely 500-1,000 people, they created an atmosphere that one should leave immediately,” he said.

Had this panic not been created and migrants been given two to four more days, he said, the situation would have been handled in a much better manner. He added that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was forced to send thousands of buses to control the situation and ferry the migrant workers home.  

He further said, in Delhi, the ruling AAP had told people to leave their homes. “There are videos available that show how AAP made rounds of slums in jeeps and created fear among them and asked them to leave,” he said. 

Also read: Congress responsible for Sikh massacre, humiliating family of Goa’s Lata Mangeshkar, says Modi

Federalism, regional aspirations, farm laws

Modi had criticised the Congress on the issue of federalism and the fight against the pandemic during his reply to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address in the Rajya Sabha Tuesday. 

Modi said he believes in a federalism where even the smallest units benefit, and cited the example of optical fibre networks — the government is working to ensure that these reach every village in the country, he said. “We want the development of the entire country. This is our method to address regional aspirations.”

“I believe in taking everyone along, following the mantra of ‘unity in diversity’. And I believe that is the only way forward. But, unfortunately, today, a few leaders are using the concept of diversity against each other for vested interests,” he said. 

Describing elections as an ‘open university’ Modi said that whether the BJP wins or loses, the polls give the party an opportunity to learn and introspect.

Responding to a question on the Opposition’s criticism that the BJP does not understand regional aspirations, Modi denied the allegation. 

“The BJP is a party which believes that we have to address regional aspirations for the development of the country. I am the country’s first PM who has served as a chief minister for so long, and hence, the aspirations of the states, their needs  I understand them very well,” he said. 

He added that visiting foreign dignitaries formerly had to stay in Delhi, but, “I don’t do that. I take them to different places. I took the Chinese premier to Tamil Nadu, I took the French president to Uttar Pradesh, I took the German chancellor to Karnataka when there was a Congress government.”

On the withdrawal of the three controversial farm laws in November 2021 after a year-long protest by farmers, Modi said that the laws had been brought in for the “benefit of farmers” but were repealed in the interest of the nation. “I don’t think this needs to be explained any more,” he said. 

Also read: Rahul Gandhi just lived a mic drop moment in Lok Sabha. BJP is again taking him seriously

Dynastic politics, law and order

Coming down heavily on dynastic politics, Modi said when a party is run for generations by a family, then there are no dynamics only dynasty. “Dynasty parties are the biggest enemy of democracy because they negate the basic principles of democracy,” he said. 

“When dynastic politics takes place, family is supreme. Save the family, whether the party or country is saved or not. When this happens, what is the casualty? Howsoever the son may be, he will be the party president. The biggest casualty is talent,” he said.

“New and young people want to enter politics, and those who don’t want to join the BJP and want to go somewhere else, have no other option. Youngsters are scared to come into politics,” he added. 

Saying that there is a huge difference between the BJP and the other parties when it comes to dynastic politics, he said when one or two persons from a particular family get tickets, and receive all important political positions in a party, that is dynastic politics. 

He cited examples of dynastic politics from Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab, and said it does not happen in the BJP.

Slamming the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is looking for re-election in the assembly polls beginning Thursday, Modi said the Yogi Adityanath government has improved the law-and-order situation in the state. He said the Opposition had been arrogant, but the people had taught them a lesson in the 2017 assembly elections, which the BJP swept. 

“We saw the game of “two boys” earlier too. They had such arrogance that they used the words ‘Gujarat ke do gadhe (two donkeys of Gujarat)‘. The people of Uttar Pradesh taught them a lesson,” Modi said, referring to the alliance between Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav in 2017.

Modi further said that he was working for the welfare and development of the country, and not for the headlines. Criticising some media houses, he said, “Nowhere else would you see media working against the country’s agenda.”

Alleged misuse of government agencies

Denying the allegations that governments misuse central agencies before elections, the PM said that the government does not interfere in their functioning. 

“In India, corruption is affecting the country like termites. People have raised their voices against such people from time to time. If I do not do anything, will the people forgive me? Wherever the government gets information, should it not take steps? If so much money is coming to the treasury of the country, then I should be praised,” Modi said. 

He also said that if Opposition parties agree to simultaneous polls, a key Modi government pitch, they won’t have any reason to complain. “In five years, elections can take place once. So decide for once that everyone will contest together. Elections keep taking place in India, so should the government stop working,” he asked.

India-China stand-off

Slamming Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his attack on the Centre for not issuing a clarification on the India-China border dispute and issues of unemployment in Parliament during the Motion of Thanks, Modi said that detailed answers were given by respective ministries. 

He also said he had spoken on the subject citing facts whenever necessary. “Our External Affairs Ministry and Defence Ministry have given detailed answers. How do I reply to a person who does not want to listen, who does not sit in the House?” he said.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: Farmers, jobs, ‘Priyanka Gandhi effect’ — how SP & BJP’s UP manifestos compare


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