West Bengal now has the highest Covid-19 mortality rate in India, with 1,344 cases of infection and 140 deaths. Covid-19 data has become a point of contention between the BJP government at the Centre and the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal. While recently admitting to data lapses, the state government refused to count 72 co-morbid deaths in its final tally. The Union health ministry, however, has rejected this distinction.
ThePrint asks: How can Mamata Banerjee’s TMC recover lost political ground after ‘fudging’ Covid numbers?
West Bengal Covid numbers have not been fudged; BJP is misrepresenting facts
TMC MP and former union minister
There has been no fudging of Covid numbers. It is a misrepresentation of the reality, and untruth propagated by the Bharatiya Janata Party and few other political parties.
Mamata Banerjee and the West Bengal government have in fact been insisting that the actual Covid numbers should be related to people who have actually died of the disease. Before, cases of co-morbidities that were infected and died of Covid-19 were made separate from the ‘Covid death count’. Chief secretary Rajiv Sinha has been constantly updating the people of West Bengal with both these figures. But the Centre recently revised its decision to include co-morbidity cases in the Covid death toll. The two figures are added and given together. Whatever confusion there was on the release of data has now been cleared up.
In fact, since the Lok Sabha elections last year, Mamata Banerjee has recovered political ground as evident in the bi-assembly elections. Since Covid hit, she has regularly been hitting the streets in locked-down Kolkata to speak directly to the people. She has visited hospitals, met all the Covid warriors and has appeared on TV to share the steps that the state government is taking. I go out to Dum Dum, which is my constituency, everyday and have noticed that people maintain a favourable impression towards didi. The way she has ensured that rations reach around ten crore people has been appreciated.
WB govt fudged numbers to hide the fallout of its inefficiency in fighting Covid crisis
National executive member, BJP Youth Wing and convener of Save Bengal
West Bengal is the only state in India that has fudged Covid-19 numbers. This is a deliberate attempt by Trinamool Congress (TMC) to hide the fallout of the inefficiency of the West Bengal government. TMC’s attempt to showcase Mamata Banerjee as a leader for all seasons has now failed.
There are several videos on social media highlighting the sufferings of the people of Bengal such as — video of dead bodies in Bangur hospital, police secretly cremating bodies in Barrackpore – Howrah and other parts, administration trying to keep a dead body on the roadside, police beating villagers for asking food, food grain distribution scam by local TMC leaders. Bharatiya Janata Party MPs were prevented from engaging in relief work. These are just some of the examples of how the Mamata Banerjee government is trying to hide what is happening in West Bengal.
There is a huge uproar throughout Bengal about the public distribution system, irrespective of party lines.
Local cable TV news channels were slapped with an FIR against them just because they pointed out corruption, which involved TMC leaders and local administration.
Mamata Banerjee’s minority appeasement politics is at an all-time high. When she was asked to comment on the Tablighi Jamaat Congregation she told the reporter not to ask “communal questions”, which itself is the testimony of how Mamata Banerjee is only thinking about vote bank. She has lost the support of people and it’s not possible for her to regain it.
Mamata govt did suffer embarrassment defending laughable numbers. But no political slugfest is won in one round
A political slugfest is hardly ever won in one round. Following the central team’s visit to West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s government did suffer some embarrassing moments, defending laughable numbers. Bureaucrats tried ingenious ways to shift the blame for deaths from Covid to comorbidity, but only to look silly in eyes of the informed. The intractable virus eventually forced U-turns. But the real battle is yet to begin.
Mamata Banerjee is still pulling her punches — it isn’t time yet to launch a no-holds-barred offensive. But when she eventually does, she will likely have a trove of uncomfortable numbers to take the Centre on.
The electoral battle for West Bengal is still almost a year away — a year of very poor visibility for politicians of all stripes. And those with greater administrative responsibilities will have much bigger goalposts to defend going forward.
The Bharatiya Janata Party in West Bengal has chosen to fight CM Banerjee on the strength of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As India emerges from the lockdown, the Prime Minister is faced with the onerous challenge of bringing an elephant of a crushed economy back on track. The slightest slip up will lead to a catastrophe and claim many more lives than the coronavirus.
Unemployment rate has by now shot up to 27 per cent even by conservative estimates. It can become a powder keg that may turn out to be far more difficult to defuse than the virus.
Perhaps battered a bit for now, Mamata Banerjee seems to be patiently waiting for all of Modi’s challenges to fully unfold.
TMC can use Centre’s data to regain political ground; most Covid-19 deaths are of people with comorbid conditions
Senior journalist and political analyst
The discrepancies in the tallies given by the chief secretary and the health secretary have given the impression that the West Bengal government is ‘fudging’ Covid numbers. Also, the state government has not been able to clear that doubt. The visit of inter-ministerial central teams in West Bengal and the governor’s consecutive letters — attacking the chief minister — only stoked the fire. Bharatiya Janata Party and other opposition parties in the state have been able to take advantage of the situation.
Apart from this, food distribution in the state via public distribution system (PDS) has been unsatisfactory and needs to be streamlined. Earlier, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders at the local level were accused of diverting food grains from the ration shop to run their personal charity events.
The handling of the Covid figures by the West Bengal government and poor management of distribution of ration have put the ruling TMC on a slippery ground. It might be difficult for the party to recover its political ground. Yet, the Centre may have unknowingly offered an escape route to TMC. The Central government has said that a majority of those who died of Covid had comorbid conditions. The TMC is yet to make use of that fact to regain the lost ground.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint