The raging battle between Mamata and Modi govt clouds corona war

The tug of war between Centre and West Bengal Government led by Mamata Banerjee amid the countrywide lockdown to fight Covid-19 threat has inadvertently assumed political overtones

PM Modi with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee (File Photo: PIB).
PM Modi with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee (File Photo: PIB).

Abid Shah

The tug of war between Centre and West Bengal Government led by Mamata Banerjee amid the countrywide lockdown to fight Covid-19 threat has inadvertently assumed political overtones. And the bitterness caused by it is bound to cast its shadow upon Centre-State relations for some more time to say the least. This is so since West Bengal is billed to go to polls to elect a new Assembly in a year’s time from now.

At the root of the latest round of tussle between Delhi and Kolkata is a virtual race between the two to put up a public-savvy face. It is more so since a huge section of people need state assistance to cope with the continuing lockdown. This does not allow them to engage in any work that could get them their daily bread and butter. Mamata tried to answer their concerns as early as last month by offering poor among them to get free rations for as long as six months.

The Chief Minister also claims that she enforced lockdown in the state even before the Centre to show how acutely she has been aware of the threat posed by the Coronavirus. West Bengal has also been relatively better off than some of the BJP ruled states like Gujarat where Corona infection has been more rampant that the eastern province. Bengal had nearly 400 positive cases and 15 deaths until Tuesday, or April 21. These are far below than the BJP-ruled Gujarat where over 2000 people have been found to be Corona positive. This has resulted in 77 casualties so far.

This difference of about five times between the two states vis-à-vis both the number of Corona cases and the mortality caused by it has put Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress Party in a better stead as compared to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s home state. In other BJP-ruled States like Madhya Pradesh this is again so. Madhya Pradesh has 1540 cases with 74 deaths. Though the Central Indian state is larger in size than West Bengal, most positive cases are confined to its main cities like Indore and Bhopal.

Thus, when Central Government’s team arrived in Bengal to check on the violation of mandatory enforcement of lockdown to break the chain of Corona infections, Mamata cried foul. She found the Centre’s move to be discriminatory and took it up with Amit Shah. She had also written to the Prime Minister. The teams that went to Bengal from Delhi planned to check as many as seven cities of the state. These are Kolkata, Howrah, North 24-Parganas, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, East Medinipur and Jalpaiguri. A similar team to Madhya Pradesh was told to confine their to Indore alone and this too was because a team of doctors accompanied by the police was attacked in the past while visiting the old parts of the city.

From the Centre’s side West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar too took up the issue with the Chief Minister. He wrote to the Chief Minister where he blamed her about non-cooperation with the Central Government. His letter dated April 20 alleges a scam in distribution of food-grains. The letter says, “The situation of PDS (Public Distribution System) in the State has reached alarming level of concern. Emerging scenario is indicative of PDS scam engulfing the State. Extreme stern and watchdog approach to bust it is peremptorily required to ensure it does not go beyond the dimensions of scams the State has already seen. On March 23 the Union Finance Minister had announced free availability of ration for three months under the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna. I find the State has not been upto the mark in availing this free ration and in spite of the readiness at the level of the FCI (Food Corporation of India), and in the process people are suffering and incrementally getting into agitational mode.”

His apprehension about people getting angry points to the possible ire of the State BJP unit against Mamata. Naturally, her move to offer free ration for as long as six months will be feared by her rivals from the point of view of its impact on the next elections.

So the question is what best can be done to keep politics away from the fight against Coronavirus. This is more so since the Centre is trying to be proactive to enforce strict lockdown and the states ruled by parties other than the BJP are often trying to hold their guns against Delhi since both health and law-and-order are state subjects. The only solution to sort out what Governor Dhankhar has been referring to as “logjam” in case of West Bengal is to hold a meeting of National Disaster Management Committee where all such issues could be taken up by availing States participation.

Though Modi has held video conference to interact with Chief Ministers following the Covid-19 outbreak, the need to work out a viable mechanism to ensure what best can be done to control the virus greatly warrants a meeting of all the stakeholders with due preparation. And there cannot be any better forum for this than the Committee for Disaster Management. This is more so, since it is headed by none other than the Prime Minister for the specific task to tackle and fight calamities and disasters only.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own

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