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Congress president Sonia Gandhi. (HT)
Congress president Sonia Gandhi. (HT)

Congress, BJP in war of words over lockdown in wake of pandemic

  • Sonia Gandhi says the onus was on the government to ensure that the virus did not spread for lack of infrastructure
  • Congress leaders discuss ways to counter the outbreak and its economic implications during a video conference call.

NEW DELHI : The opposition Congress and incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sparred on Thursday over the 21-day national lockdown to contain covid-19 outbreak. This is the first time that the two national parties have engaged in a public war of words over the lockdown, in place since 25 March.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday attacked the Centre over its response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying that while a national lockdown was necessary, it was implemented in an unplanned manner, causing “chaos and pain".

“The 21-day national lockdown may have been necessary but the unplanned manner in which it has been implemented has caused chaos and pain in the lives of millions of migrant workers all over India. It has been heart-breaking to see lakhs of people walking for hundreds of kilometres towards their villages without food or shelter," Gandhi said.

“As far as covid-19 is concerned, there is no alternative to constant and reliable testing. This is the most effective way to combat it…. The onus lies on governments to ensure that the spread of infection and casualties are not caused because of lack of infrastructure or preparedness," Gandhi said in her address to the first-ever virtual meeting of the party’s apex decision making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

The Centre should make public data on availability of medical supplies, designated hospitals, number of beds, quarantine and testing facilities, she said.

Union ministers and top BJP leaders accused the Congress of politicising the issue. “Under PM @narendramodi’s leadership, India’s efforts to fight coronavirus are being lauded domestically and globally. 130 crore Indians are united to defeat covid-19. Yet, Congress is playing petty politics. High time they think of national interest," home minister Amit Shah posted on Twitter.

BJP national president J.P. Nadda said Gandhi’s comments were “insensitive and unbecoming".

In the CWC meeting, chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, particularly Captain Amarinder Singh of Punjab and Bhupesh Baghel of Chhattisgarh, pointed out how the non-payment of goods and services tax (GST) dues to states is adding to their resource crunch, making it more difficult to deal with the pandemic. “The fight against coronavirus must be unitedly fought by central and state governments. Majority of the state governments have complained of inadequate financial resources in the absence of central government not releasing state’s share in the GST. We call upon the Union government to forthwith release the state’s share in GST to enable them to fight covid-19 more effectively," read the resolution adopted by CWC on Thursday.

The chief ministers gave details of the work they were doing to check the pandemic, said a leader who attended the meeting.

Gandhi urged Congress leaders and workers to offer help to families at extreme risk by providing them shelter, food and medicine. She urged the Union government to announce a common minimum relief programme that would address the needs of all sections of the society.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who attended a CWC meeting after a long gap, spoke about need to devise an India-specific strategy to take on the pandemic. He also spoke about how the country should ready for an ‘economic devastation’, according to a tweet by Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.

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