Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday held a video conference with all chief ministers to take stock of the situation arising out of the Covid-19 health emergency. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee skipped the meet, refusing to communicate with the centre. Karnataka and Kerala are at loggerheads after the former closed the Kasaragod-Mangaluru National Highway fearing spread of virus from the neighbouring Kerala district.
ThePrint asks: Covid-19 Battle: Are Indian chief ministers measuring up or need strong central oversight?
Battle against Covid-19 will be fought by India’s foot soldiers, not Centre or state govts
Congress leader and Punjab finance minister
The battle against coronavirus has to be fought in the trenches. Neither Delhi, nor Chandigarh, can fight this battle. It will be fought by India’s foot soldiers.
Go to a Punjab village, and you will witness the culture of giving. You will witness resilience that cannot be imagined in the corridors of power. You will come across a war-like community spirit. Go to a gurdwara and be a first-hand witness of this indomitable spirit.
The governments in Delhi and Chandigarh can be catalysts. They can channelise human kindness to fight the coronavirus crisis. But the real battle against Covid-19 will be fought by the officers: the deputy commissioners, police commissioners, the tehsildars and thanedars. This is a war, and the battleground is not Delhi, but in India’s heartland. Numerous battles have to be fought. As Winston Churchill said in his famous Second World War speech, “…we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”.
Fight against Covid-19 needs central oversight. Modi government taking steps
Dr. K. Sudhakar
Minister of Medical Education, Karnataka
Since Covid-19 is a global pandemic, the situation definitely calls for central oversight and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has successfully been a father figure for all the states in this crisis.
The Centre has taken necessary steps to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits, masks and ventilators to states.
It is clear from today’s video conference that different states are dealing with certain localised issues and their challenges vary. For example, some states in the northeast India have reported zero Covid-19 cases, but then, we have Maharashtra which has seen 300+ cases. Challenges on financial front is also different for different states.
Many states like Andhra Pradesh have expressed their financial distress, calling for central support. Each chief minister will have to adapt to the developments in their own state and the central leadership should provide a supporting hand.
The Karnataka-Kerala border closure is a non-issue. The Karnataka government has requested Kerala to close off the border near Madikeri only because the healthcare system in that district is not equipped to treat Covid-19 patients. It’s not as if Karnataka is refusing to treat patients from Kerala. We’re treating several in Mangalore right now. We only ask that they enter through Mysuru or other borders where the health infrastructure is better.
Elder-brother attitude not needed, states want centre’s support during Covid-19 crisis
TRS leader and Member of Rajya Sabha from Telangana
States don’t need central oversight, but they do need cooperation in the fight against Covid-19 because it is the state governments who are closer to the ground. However, I will credit Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a nationwide lockdown. Although the Telangana government had initiated a lockdown even before the centre’s announcement.
Oversight is required when states fall short of expectations or lose sight of their goals. Therefore, what is required is central ‘support’ in the form of finances, technological support (research) and medical equipment, and not central ‘oversight’ in the form of micromanaging or an elder-brother attitude.
There is a shortage of testing kits, hospitals and medical equipment in the country. Yet, states, even with their limitations, are operating as best as they can — by providing ration and patrolling borders. Hyderabad is planning to distribute ration and Rs 500 to the poor every second week. But even then, the city does not have the kind of wherewithal to reach every person in need.
I can understand when migrants from Jharkhand, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu or Coimbatore want to go back home, but states have to be firm on sealing borders for everyone’s safety. We understand a family’s desperation to walk from Delhi back to Rajasthan. There is a critical need for the centre or the concerned states to rescue them.
Be it coronavirus testing or arrangements for lockdown, both Centre and states have faults
Senior journalist and political analyst
The fault line lies both with the Centre and some states. Some chief ministers are definitely not measuring up.
For example, Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao had reportedly threatened to issue a ‘shoot at sight’ order for lockdown violators — an irresponsible comment that can only create more problems. UP CM Adityanath violated curfew to install an idol of ‘Ram Lalla’ in a makeshift temple before Navratri. Arvind Kejriwal could have better dealt with the Tablighi Jamaat situation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin.
Even West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, who has been proactive in mobilising state administration, had underestimated the virus’ potential danger. As late as 4 March, she alleged that the attempt to spread coronavirus panic was a ploy to divert attention from Delhi riots.
When the nationwide lockdown was put in place, most states failed to assess the problems it would generate, especially with regard to migrant workers and the unorganised sector. The mad rush of people crisscrossing the country, walking for kilometres to reach home, could have been avoided if the administration had taken into consideration these otherwise ‘invisible and voiceless’ migrant workers.
However, the Centre also needs to be taken to task. Though a lockdown was unprecedented, it should have devised some mechanism to provide food and water to people, knowing they’d have to remain indoors. Finally, both Centre and states have been reluctant to expand the process of testing for coronavirus.
CMs like Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan took measures against Covid-19 even before Modi announced lockdown
B S Nagaraj
Independent journalist, Bengaluru
By and large, chief ministers are doing a good job in their respective states in responding to the Covid-19 challenge. Several proactive measures were taken in different states even before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown.
Kerala and Maharashtra, and to some extent Karnataka, have led the battle against the coronavirus crisis from the front. Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala, was among the first to put together a well-thought-out strategy, not just to meet the medical challenge but also to respond effectively to the needs of the citizens through an economic package.
The national response could have been far more impactful had there been more consultation with the states, several of which are hamstrung by the lack of resources like testing labs and personal protective equipment for healthcare personnel. The Covid-19 pandemic is not a partisan issue and the opposition parties have rightfully not been over-critical of the Centre’s response. PM Modi could have built upon this goodwill and reached out to all the parties, and they in turn could have become effective bridges between the Centre and non-BJP-ruled states.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist, ThePrint