Centre-State fault lines: New Delhi’s pettiness exposed

When Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray attempted to reach Modi to appeal for more oxygen concentrators, the PMO refused to connect him saying the PM was busy campaigning in Bengal

Centre-State fault lines: New Delhi’s pettiness exposed

Sujata Anandan

While public memory is proverbially short, Modi government’s refusal to help Kerala during the floods two years ago is still too fresh to be forgotten. The Centre had then demanded that the state repay whatever little was extended by way of aid. Therefore, its dealing with the pandemic in opposition-ruled states has not come as a surprise.

Maharashtra minister and NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik has said on record that when they approached companies exporting Remdesivir, the companies refused to sell the injections to the state. They had been asked by the Centre not to do so or risk losing their licenses, they said. Significantly, the Centre has not denied the claim.

However sinister this might be, it is one thing for the Centre to play political games over the supply of the drug but quite another for the BJP to hoard it and create artificial shortages.

The Mumbai police on a tip off last week had hauled in the directors of Bruck Pharmaceuticals for hoarding and illegal smuggling of the drug. Even as they were being questioned, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis rushed to their rescue saying he and his supporters had placed orders for the drugs worth nearly Rs five crore to be supplied to those in need. But since when has a political party been authorised to secure and distribute notified drugs?

However, BJP seems to be making a habit of this. The Gujarat High Court last week issued notices to CR Patil, the BJP’s Surat MP and others for illegal hoarding and distribution of Remdesivir. Now Gujarat is a state ruled by the BJP, so one would have presumed there would be no political compulsion to play such political games there.

Yet Patil seemed to have an enormous stock of the injections even as patients and their relatives cried hoarse about failing to secure the drugs. When Chief Minister Vijay Rupani was asked how the drugs could have found their way to his party MP, he refused to reply saying merely, “Ask him, I don't know.”

A Gujarat daily then published Patil's number in bold letters on the front page so that people could ask him directly. Even as Patil ducked and went underground, Fadnavis seemed to have adopted a similar strategy in Maharashtra to hoard the injection. That Bruck Pharmaceuticals is actually illegally supplying the drugs, despite Fadnavis's defence of the company, became apparent when its directors were arrested by Gujarat police in a case unrelated to the Maharashtra imbroglio.

Fadnavis has been left with a lot of egg on his face and may well sacrifice his party colleague Pravin Darekar, who he claimed had placed the order- there is a clamour for his arrest and the Maharashtra government has already stated its intention to file a case against the former chief minister.

But that the BJP and its leaders think they are a law unto themselves – note how Fadnavis' nephew Tanmay Fadnavis got the vaccine out of turn at the age of 32, when only those above the age of 45 were eligible- and need not follow rules is apparent from both the Gujarat and Maharashtra imbroglios.

When Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray attempted to reach Modi to appeal for more oxygen concentrators, the PMO refused to connect him although the Prime Minister’s new, fancy plane has state-of-the-art communication systems. The PMO instead informed Bombay that the PM was busy campaigning in Bengal and would be available only when he returned to the capital.

The Centre has increasingly concentrated power in itself and curtailed power of the states. It is also now clear that most of the states are on their own. Thackeray made constant appeals to the Centre over the past month for universal vaccination, procure more drugs and sought permission to declare the Coronavirus crisis as a natural calamity so that more funds could be accessed to fight the disease. The permissions have finally come after adverse Twitter storms rattled the Centre.

Covaxin will now be manufactured by the Haffkine Institure in Mumbai, a premier institute set up by the British in 1897, when the metropolis was devastated by Plague. It had then produced a vaccine for the disease within a year. But despite its long record, it remains a mystery why the Centre did not grant it permission to manufacture the vaccine last year when permission was given only to Bharat Biotech.

In an unexpected policy reversal, the Centre has now allowed states to import vaccines, negotiate prices with domestic manufacturers and decide on how to distribute the vaccines. After making a mess of its management of the pandemic, the Centre has now abdicated its responsibility. The pandemic has not just exposed the incompetence of the Centre but also the fault lines of centre-state relations.

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