Corona crisis: States and centre must work in tandem; opposition within rights to criticise govt handling

Opposition is within its rights to ask questions about the government’s readiness and its response and the government too is duty bound to remain accountable

Coronavirus: Rush to develop rapid tests
Coronavirus: Rush to develop rapid tests

Kalyani Shankar/IPA

Is the opposition supporting Modi government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic? Is the government doing enough? One should not raise eyebrows if the opposition parties do not praise the government’s effort, though they are forced to give lip-support reluctantly. Even in the United States despite the pandemic outbreak, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused the President Donald Trump of “playing politics” with the virus, to which the latter responded by calling her “incompetent.” The Speaker hit back saying, “Lives are at stake. This is not a time for name-calling or playing politics.”What both said applies to Indian politicians also.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown his leadership qualities by persuading the people to observe one-day Janata curfew successfully and took it forward by the three -week official lockdown, the opposition thinks that what the government is not doing enough. This was evident during the curtailed Parliament session when the opposition raised questions on the government’s tackling of the pandemic. In fact, even curtailing the session became a question of playing politics as the opposition alleged that the Modi government was keen on keeping the session on for the sake of forming the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh

How has the Congress, the main opposition party dealt with the issue? While the party has been careful to avoid any antagonistic public posture at a time when the nation faces a war like situation, it has stressed certain key issues. Though delayed, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pledging her party’s support to the national lockdown adding that she has also certain suggestions.

Sonia Gandhi said that the Centre must consider announcing sector-wise relief package, including tax breaks, interest subvention, deferment of liability, in her letter adding the need for extra measures for migrant labour and the unorganized sector workers. Sonia has also asked the congress chief ministers to gear up for the situation. In a delayed effort, the Congress has activated its AICC general secretaries, PCC Presidents, legislature party leaders, and heads of frontal organisation through video-conferences.

Her son and former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who was critical Modi’s way of handling the pandemic, has pledged his personal support on Saturday to the Prime Minister in a letter but also appealed for a nuanced approach. He has urged the prime minister to come up with a safety net for the poor a road map with a time frame. Congress leaders who spoke in a shriller voice earlier now speak in a muted tone. They are saying “We are with you but…!” . Within hours of Rahul Gandhi declaring his support, party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi came out with scathing criticism the lockdown and the plight of about one crore migrant workers. “You have heightened the nerves of the people of this nation because of your unpreparedness,” he said.

It is the same with other opposition leaders be it Mamata Banerjee or Pinarayi Vijayan or Sitaram Yechury or Mayawati, D. Raja. The BJP is much ahead of the other parties and has geared up its machinery along with the full support of the RSS.

What is heartening is that the state and the Centre are working in tandem in tackling the pandemic. Cooperation between the Centre and the states fortunately continues at the official level, and health is one such area where states have never withheld their cooperation. Interestingly, it is the regional parties and leaders who have taken the lead in the fight against coronavirus. Most non-BJP ruled states supported the Janata curfew. Chief ministers like Naveen Patnaik, K.Chandrashekhar Rao, Jagan Mohan Reddy, E. Palaniswamy and Arvind Kejriwal have responded positively to the Prime Minister’s initiatives. These regional satraps have come up with their own relief measures. The West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced an Rs 200 crore fund to tackle the disease. Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan has announced a 2000 crores financial help. At the state level too, the opposition parties in the respective states have offered to work with the government except a few states like Tamil Nadu.

All these go to show that a collective political will is needed to deal with a critical stage in the transmission of the virus. India is facing an unprecedented challenge, which affects each state, each economic sector, each business and the health of each family.

What do the people of India want? They are looking to a genuine leadership both from the government and the opposition. The opposition has the responsibility to come up with policy options and the government should be able to cope with the unprecedented pandemic. Both should not fail the people at a time like this.

Indeed opposition is within its rights to ask questions about the government’s readiness and its response and the government too is duty bound to remain accountable. Both should keep aside their political agenda as the priority is dealing with the unprecedented pandemic. Therefore the response should be reflected in political unity.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own

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