By Vrinda Lobo
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the opposition Congress party has offered its support to the Government and extended its help to the people of India. The party has become the principal voice for those questioning the actions of the ruling party BJP, pushing the Government to perform better in protecting the constitution and all the people of India, irrespective class, caste, religion, being poor or rich. Criticism from the Congress party over the government’s handling of COVID-19 has been particularly sharp and loud.
Many Congress Chief Ministers and respected national leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, have contributed with their suggestions regarding handling economic distress, COVID-19 management, vaccination roll out and much more. They are doing their job as an opposition party by supporting, as well as, challenging the Government, which was not taken to it kindly.
The Government, on the other hand, accuses the Congress party of spreading misinformation, dividing the nation amidst a pandemic, misleading people and calling them anti-national.
The Congress party has now put together a ‘White Paper’ addressing the Covid-19 situation in the country. It offers a set of measures to improve India’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. The congress party hopes that the Government will acknowledge the suggestions by the Congress party and take adequate steps.
“It is imperative that we, as a nation, respond to the current and future waves with all the resources at our command, The Congress party stands committed to working with the Union government to overcome this extraordinary challenge,” the Congress party stated in its manifesto.
The ‘White Paper’ gives a detailed reflection on the COVID-19 management by the Government and suggestions to learn from mistakes and failures. It examines constructive measures to enhance policy responses to the present second wave and future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also talks about the inaction of the Government when the pandemic began in January 2020, which ignored early warnings from political opponents and experts.
In the paper, the Congress party accuses Prime Minister Narendra Modi of failing to prevent the spread of the virus and containing the pandemic by not taking appropriate and necessary steps as advised by experts and scientists. The Congress party called the mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis a severe governance failure. The Government did not learn from the lessons and models of response from other countries which were hit by the pandemic first, it said.
“This inaction for a period of nearly two months was completely avoidable and cost us dearly,” the Congress party states in the ‘White Paper”.
Some of the main points of mismanagement of the pandemic mentioned in the ‘White Paper’ include:
- The government ignored suggestions and early warnings of an increase of the spread of the virus and further waves, of expertise as epidemiologists, virologists and other scientists.
- From the beginning of January 2020 all international passengers should have been screened and quarantined.
- Testing should have been done on a large scale, Covid-19 tracing with more diligence and also symptomatic persons with no travel history should have been tested.
- One of the initial response of the Government were measures like the countrywide Janata Curfew. The way it was imposed lead to a terrible humanitarian crisis impacting the lives of around 4 crore migrant workers, their livelihood and families.
- There was and still is no transparency of the PM-Cares fund.
“The Modi government should have put in place measures in anticipation of the second wave. Its Unforgivable Negligence pushed our country into a colossal disaster,” the Congress party said. In early 2021 the Government internationally declared a premature victory over COVID-19.
At the same time, the Government did not ban large gatherings, including election rallies held in West Bengal and other states. It should have reduced gatherings to smaller numbers. Also, with the second COVID-19 wave on its way, the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh should have been postponed.
During both waves, the government did not correct the under-reporting of the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, vital to frame policies based on accurate data. Transparency and provision of correct data should have been a priority.
Further, the Government failed to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure, especially in the rural areas. Required medical supplies and equipment was not available and its supply slow, costing thousands of lives. The Government slowed down the vaccination drive by placing its first vaccine order only on 11 January 2021 and ordered a meager 1.65 core vaccine doses from two Indian manufacturers. It also delayed the licensing for Covaxin to another Indian firm.
“India was partly saved by civil society organizations and political parties that stepped up to provide crucial support to families of COVID-19 patients, including those affected by the lock-down. Courts have reprimanded the Modi government for its policy failures,” the Congress party concludes.