New Delhi: In one of her strongest statements against the Union government, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said that every Indian should be worried about the “virus of communal hatred” that the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is spreading, even as the country is staring at large-scale economic losses because of the nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) video-conference meeting, she said that despite the fact that the coronavirus has spread alarmingly fast in the last three weeks, the Union government has acted “only partially and in a miserly way” on the suggestions that health experts and opposition members have given. She added that the Modi government has also failed to show “compassion and alacrity” at a time when scores of people have been severely impacted by the lockdown.
“Let me also share with you something that should worry each and every one us Indians. When we should be tackling the corona virus unitedly, the BJP continues to spread the virus of communal prejudice and hatred. Grave damage is being done to our social harmony. Our party, we will have to work hard to repair that damage,” the Congress president said.
Sonia said that she had offered constructive cooperation to the Prime Minister several times and in various letters suggested steps to be taken to mitigate the sufferings of working people. “Unfortunately, they have been acted upon only partially and in a miserly way. The compassion, large-heartedness and alacrity that should be forthcoming from the Central government is conspicuous by its absence,” she alleged.
She then went on to speak about the distress “our kisans and khet mazdoors, migrant labour, construction workers, and workers in the unorganised sector” are facing at a time when trade, commerce and industry has come to a halt.
“The Central government does not appear to have a clear idea on how the situation will be managed after May 3. A lockdown of the present nature after that date would be even more devastating,” she observed, as she lashed out against the Centre for failing to conduct mass testing and provide protection gear to frontline health workers.
She said that even as testing remained low, there was still a short supply of testing kits and safety gear for health workers were insufficient or of very poor quality.
She also spoke about the impending hunger situation in the country, and government’s failure to release food grains from its stock to at least 11 crore people who do not have ration cards. “It should be our commitment to provide 10 kg of food grains, 1 kg of pulses and half a kg of sugar to each person of the family every month, in this hour of crisis,” she said.
The Congress chief said that families of an estimated 12 crore people who lost their jobs in the first phase of the lockdown should be given at least Rs 7,500 to cope with the crisis. She also advocated that MGNREGS should be bolstered further to support the poor.
She also said that “funds legitimately owed to our states” had been held back by the Centre. She said despite such limitations, the Congress-ruled states have done well to fight the pandemic.
The CWC statement
Following the CWC meeting, party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala and general secretary (organisation) released a statement. It hit out at the Centre for failing to constitute an “Economic Task Force”, which the Prime Minister had announced a month ago.
It emphasised that only a cooperative approach with states will help tide over the crisis. “The fight must be bottom-up instead of the top-down, one size fits all policy currently on display. The Central government can vastly bolster the states’ efforts by providing them with adequate financial support starting with releasing their full share of the Goods and Services Tax collected so far and allowing them greater fiscal space to borrow.”
The CWC also recommended that migrant workers “may be allowed to travel under strict conditions of health safety” and “be provided with adequate money and food in the interim”. It also said that the stranded workers should be allowed to return to work after the lockdown.
It urged the government to work on four fronts, containment and treatment, livelihood support, maintenance of supplies, and economic revival, for a holistic approach to tackle the crisis.
Other Congress leaders and chief ministers also pitched in with suggestions. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said, “Success of lockdown is to be judged finally on our ability to tackle COVID-19…Co-operation between the Centre and states is key to success of our fight against COVID-19…”
Former finance minister. P. Chidambaram identified three major issues: urgent financial assistance to states, revamping of health infrastructure, and a humane policy.
Congress legislature party leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said that since oil prices have dropped significantly, the common man should be extended some relief.
Elaborating on the role of Congress as a constructive opposition party, senior leader A.K.Antony said, “It is our responsibility to act as watchdogs and ensure course correction.” He said that Indians stuck abroad should be permitted to return home after due testing.
“Issue of migrant workers needs to be addressed as a first priority. Lockdown is a mere pause button. As a nation, we need to think of a transition from a lockdown to lockdown only in disease hotzones and commencement of activities in green zones,” former party president Rahul Gandhi chipped in with this suggestion.
All Congress chief ministers criticised the Centre for its highhandedness.
”Resources of Rs 4,400-crore of GST have still not been released by the Central Govt. In place of 1 lakh rapid testing kits, we have received only 10,000 of Chinese make. Their authenticity is to be tested still…,” Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said.
His Rajasthan counterpart Ashok Gehlot, while detailing his welfare efforts in the state, said that “there is urgent need for centralised procurement of kits, ventilators etc. so that availability, quality and quantity can be assured.” Currently, only the Centre can purchase health equipment.
Gehlot also demanded a “big financial package for states” to help restore normalcy.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and Puducherry’s V Narayanasamy also urged the Centre to release a package for their states to keep up with the relief and welfare work in their states.