Grave times reveal the real side of leaders – whether they choose to rise to the occasion or descend into petty politics. As Maharashtra continued to peak with the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases in the nation, CM Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray clearly made his choice to ‘fall’ in the second kind.
One of the gravest examples of this descent was an allegation, more so a sensationalized version of the truth, levelled against the Prime Minister.
In a statement from CMO Maharashtra, it was put out how when CM Uddhav Thackeray reached out to PM Modi to discuss the situation of oxygen supply in Maharashtra, he could not get hold of him on his landline as the PM was travelling to Bengal.
More than the news, one has to be surprised at the naivety and ignorance of the Chief Minister himself. Being a Chief Minister and active in politics for years, neither did he nor his office even once think of reaching out to the PM through the PMO team that travels along wherever he goes.
The PM, who one can confidently say belongs to the first kind of leaders, could easily be contacted at any time of the day. In fact, all throughout the pandemic, PM Narendra Modi has kept channels of communication open with the CMs of every state, having talked to them over 15 times in formal settings and several more times informally.
This makes one wonder – was the call placed to actually speak to the Prime Minister or from the very start, was it done with an intention of making headlines?
If this is news to you, then what conspired just a day ago, on 15th April, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a virtual discussion with the Chief Ministers of various states on the situation relating to COVID-19, will make you question the CM’s intentions furthermore. During this crucial meet, more so for Maharashtra, CM Uddhav Thackeray was found busy fiddling with his phone.
One is split between deciding what was more foolish out of the two – calling someone and expecting to reach them on their landline when they’re travelling or putting it out for the world and letting them know about your foolishness. The jury is out.
Going back to the topic of grave times and how to deal with them, one needs to understand how different people react to loss differently. The first kind of leaders dwells on turning adversity into an opportunity, the second kind turn towards grief and grievances.
Stages of grief
With the pandemic spreading its deadly arms, mismanagement at the helm of affairs and state leaders plumbing new political lows every day right under the watch of Maha Vikas Aghadi mastermind Sharad Pawar, one really has to wonder if it was on purpose, that if it was the grief that was bringing joy to them.
Data, personal accounts, pictures, videos, tweets, distress messages – all of it has already painted quite a gloomy picture of Maharashtra in the minds of the Indian public. Adding doom to the gloom was how things were, how things are still, being run.
From vaccines to oxygen cylinders, life-saving drugs to public money – there’s perhaps no topic of critical public importance that the Maharashtra government leaders have not played politics on, and that too in a time of a crisis. With every passing petty political move, MVA’s politics plunged further down, pulling the rest of the country with it too.
The ongoing COVID-19 surge in Maharashtra, negligence, petty politics and all of it can be best explained through various stages of grief. The grieving process of not of the public, but of the leaders of Maharashtra.
First stage: Denial
“This can’t be happening to me” – When a wave of shock hits one, it is perhaps among the first few thoughts that crop up in the mind that very instant.
But it was happening, no matter how much the State or the state-sponsored mouthpieces tried to remain in denial or tell people otherwise. Another wave of COVID-19 was nearing, this time much bigger than before and Maharashtra was battling to survive.
Maharashtra government did what every grief-stricken person going through denial does –deflecting, asserting and pointing fingers. And when the uncomfortable truth, though hard to swallow, had to be gulped, it was washed down citing ‘transparency’.
Maharashtra was sinking and suddenly everyone was cheering on after the captain for declaring it minutes before, that indeed it was.
People in Maharashtra were contracting the deadly COVID-19 virus again, this time at a pace higher than the last. Was it laxity, mismanagement or something else? We’ll find out.
1st March, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 12,286
Ahead of the Budget session of the Maharashtra Legislature, Congress’ state chief Nana Patole assembled outside the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha along with other leaders. The Congress party had called out a cycle to rally in protest against fuel prices.
Aslam Sheikh, Bhai Jagtap, Yashomati Thakur and Maharashtra Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat were present too. The event was telecasted LIVE from INC Maharashtra’s Twitter page.
This was a time when the COVID numbers had just begun to surge in Maharashtra again. But were things any better when the second wave was already at its mighty best? Let’s find out.
9th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 1,45,384
From 12,000 on the day of the cycle rally to 1,45,000 on that given day – COVID-19 was already sweeping Maharashtra by now. Yet on 9th April, NCP leader, Sharad Pawar’s nephew and Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar addressed a huge public meeting in Maharashtra’s Solapur ahead of the Pandharpur-Mangalvedha assembly constituency by-polls.
11th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 1,68,912.
It was around April 11 when Maharashtra leaders, who may have gotten a sense of the rising numbers by now, started to panic, and chose to go into a full denial mode.
It all began with blaming and pontificating other states for the rising COVID-19 numbers in Maharashtra, while conveniently forgetting the ones organized in the state’s immediate vicinity.
Are lives more important or these election congregations? Asked Priyanka Chaturvedi.
Almost as if making one seriously wonder if elections in the Eastern part of the country could actually be responsible for surging virus cases in its Western parts.
Then there was another one from Congress leader and Maharashtra Minister Aslam Sheikh, who you might recall had taken part in the cycle rally mentioned earlier. Instead of analyzing his own state’s situation, Aslam Shaikh had directed the COVID19 Task Force to study why cases did not increase in other states where mass gatherings were being held for the purposes of campaigning. The irony is not lost on one.
13th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 1,84,372.
In line with the political whataboutery of his counterparts, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut came out forward levelling allegations on the people of other states for the rising Coronavirus cases in the country. Criticizing the Kumbh Mela congregation, Sanjay Raut, on top of everything, advised other states to exercise control and restraint.
If this wasn’t enough, Raut’s denial had reached to such levels that he even went on to claim how Maharashtra had the best government, best administration, best CM and the best healthcare system in the entire country.
These hyperboles at a time when the people of Maharashtra were suffering with the worst ever collapse of public healthcare system in the history of the state.
15th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 2,17,353
Perhaps Sanjay Raut had a point to make. In a huge display of ‘control and restraint’, leaving behind the state of Maharashtra to deal with its sorrows on its own, Raut travelled to Karnataka’s Belgavi to hold a roadshow campaign for upcoming by-poll elections.
17th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 2,61,394
“Those returning from Kumbh Mela to their respective states will distribute Corona as ‘prasad’,” said Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar, comparing the Kumbh congregation with the Markaz super-spreader congregation from last year. Furthermore, Pednekar’s admission that the Maharashtra government had no idea how many devotees had attended the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand and how they were coming back, was in itself a commentary on how things were being handled in Maharashtra.
In some form or the other, those running the Maharashtra government were rejecting the facts in front of them. In psychology, it is said of denial that if it persists it may in its most ugly form prevent a person from taking an appropriate action. This is exactly what was happening in Maharashtra – inaction.
2nd stage: Anger
“It’s not fair! Why me?” – The next stage of grief is anger. When one is filled with rage, they look for something or someone to blame for the situation.
And here one is not even talking of public anger. It is rather a form of anger which is unreasonable.
We’re talking about how the leaders of the Maha Vikas Aghadi started reacting as they were just about crossing the threshold of denial and beginning to sense that things indeed were going out of control.
When one is not in control of situations, the easiest thing to do in the world?
Blame others for your predicaments.
7th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 1,26,789.
Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope started claiming that there was a shortage of vaccine doses. He also demanded the Centre open vaccination for people in the 20-40 years age group. The blame game had just begun.
The same day, in response to Tope’s charges, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan revealed how the allegations were ‘utterly baseless’ and were just a part of diversionary tactics adopted by the Maharashtra government to hide their inefficiencies.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan also slammed the ‘lackadaisical attitude’ of the Maharashtra government, which singularly bogged down the nation’s efforts to fight the virus.
He also criticized the Maharashtra government for putting the people of Maharashtra in danger by letting people escape institutional quarantine requirements for the sake of their personal ‘Vasooli’ collection.
So, while Tope was blaming vaccine shortage for the rising cases in Maharashtra, right under his government’s nose, or should one say in connivance with his government, foreign flyers to Mumbai were paying to skip COVID quarantine protocols.
8th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 1,31,968.
The next day, State Health Minister Tope started accusing the Central government of discrimination in vaccine distribution, alleging that BJP-ruled states received more vaccines over others. He also warned that vaccination in Maharashtra would be paused for the next 7-days if vaccines weren’t dispatched in a day’s time.
Responding to his allegations, yet again Union Minister Harsh Vardhan came forward with data revealing how both non-BJP states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan had received one of the highest numbers of vaccine doses than any other in the country.
The same day, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar revealed that how due to a lack of planning on the part of the state government, around 5 lakh doses of the COVID-19 vaccines were wasted in Maharashtra.
So not only was the state Health Minister Tope lying about the vaccine discrimination, it seems he was also faking a shortage, when it actually was more about wastage. But what about stopping vaccination for 7-days? Quite clearly Maharashtra had a huge stock resting with itself. Why was Tope claiming there was a shortage? What about the 5 lakh doses that were wasted due to state government’s inefficiencies? And most importantly, can someone be so consumed by anger that they’re ready to put a hold on the vaccination drive in their COVID-hit state only to make a political point? Well, yes.
9th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 1,45,384
The cases in Maharashtra were rising and so was anger. After threatening to halt the vaccination drive, macho posturing was chosen as the next tactics in series to divert public anger as well as pressurize the Centre.
MVA ally Raju Shetti, leader of the Swabhimani Shetkari Saghtana, threatened to stop vehicles transporting vaccines to other states from the Serum Institute of India if the supply of vaccines to Maharashtra was not increased in a week’s time. He wrote a letter to PM, HM and Health Minister, warning the same.
On a separate note, another instance that was doing the rounds on April 9 was how the state’s Environment Minister and CM Uddhav’s son Aaditya Thackeray was slammed by a Congress leader for sanctioning whopping Rs 3,693 crores from the District Planning and Development Committee (DPDC) funds for the beautification of bungalows of 43 Shiv Sena corporators.
On a normal day, nobody would have taken much notice of this, but nothing was normal when it came to the affairs of the Maharashtra government. Just 6 days earlier on the 3rd April, State Congress president Nana Patole, while crying about lack of funds had accused the Centre of withholding the rightful funds meant for Maharashtra.
Patole blamed the Centre for not providing Maharashtra enough from the Aatmanirbhar Package, and expressed his disapproval towards BJP leaders who instead of donating to CM Fund had donated to the PM-CARES fund.
Clearly it was yet another low blow, claiming of shortages where there were none, blaming the Centre and putting them in the bad light – something which had now become a regular from Maharashtra leaders.
In grief, it is important to release anger, but not in a way that would prove to be harmful. Be it the false alarm over vaccine shortage, the threats to stop the vaccination drive in Maharashtra, blocking vaccine supply to the rest of the country or falsely crying lack of funds –all of them are unhealthy and not becoming of the leadership of a state reeling with a crisis.
“Why me?” – At this stage, one starts looking for ways and means to reclaim control over things, bargaining with themselves and wanting to feel like they can influence an event’s outcome.
Yet again, it wasn’t the public, but the leadership in Maharashtra who was going through this stage.
Sensing imminent public fury for mishandling the pandemic again, several leaders of the MVA began coming up with regular rituals to fight the growing sense of narrative slipping out of their hands. These rituals involved faking it, making false accusations, claiming shortages in supply, and doing everything else in their might to bargain control of the situation.
17th April, 2021 – Total No. of New Cases in India: 2,61,394.
NCP spokesperson and Maharashtra Cabinet Minister Nawab Malik sent out a tweet falsely claiming that 16 export-oriented units (EoUs) that had more than 20 lakh vials of Remdesivir, were denied permission to sell in the country by the Government of India. He also claimed that only 7 companies were allowed by GoI to sell Remdesivir and that those companies had denied taking up any responsibilities.
Union Chemicals & Fertilizers Minister Mansukh Mandaviya immediately took to Twitter to debunk the lies spread by Nawab Malik. The Minister shared how over 20 plants had already been given express permission to produce and supply Remdesivir. He also revealed that there was only 1 unit of EoU and another in an SEZ and not 16 as mentioned by Malik. The Minister also demanded Malik to share the list of the aforementioned 16 companies.
If this was not enough, Malik then posted a government order, claiming that GoI had issued an order to ‘one of the export companies’ to supply Remdseivir to Gujarat only. He claimed that the Central government was giving a ‘step-motherly treatment to Maharashtra.
Never mind the fact that the order he shared was from Food & Drugs Control Administration, Gujarat. The order Malik posted was from the Gujarat government, not the central government.
Twist in the tale is that Maharashtra too had written an exact similar letter to one of the export companies to exclusively supply the stock of Remdesivir to the state of Maharashtra only.
These purported lies were fashioned to create panic and seed discord among people. But one by one these lies were being taken apart. However, that did not stop them from doing whatever they intended to.
Next up, Maharashtra politics plummeted to such levels that it was not only limited to attacking the Centre but extended to harassing private citizens as well. BJP leader and former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis had brought on board pharmaceutical company Bruck Pharma for supplying Remdesivir in Maharashtra. In what seemed another attempt to regain control, on 17th April, Mumbai police detained Bruck Pharma supplier in Daman. Mumbai cops called it a routine enquiry, followed by supporters of the Maharashtra government levelling false allegations of hoarding on the company.
Wait, what? Weren’t Maharashtra leaders just complaining about the shortage of Remdesivir? And what happens when someone comes forward to supply the same? He is illegally detained and harassed by Mumbai police at the behest of the state government.
On a related note, it is important to recall the tweet by Nawab Malik, where he openly threatened about his intentions to seize the stock of Remdesivir.
The same day, the allegations of CM Maharashtra Uddhav Thackeray trying to get in touch with PM Narendra Modi and his following unavailability on the landline came out.
GoI Minister Piyush Goyal instantly put out facts calling out CM Maharashtra for his ‘petty politics’. In a series of tweets, Goyal revealed how the Government of India was at 110% of oxygen generating capacity and diverting all available oxygen from industrial use to medical use. He also revealed how Maharashtra had so far received the highest quantity of oxygen in India and that Uddhav Thackeray needed to stop his daily dose of shameless politics and take responsibility.
It is pertinent to note that the Indian Railways had already started to transport liquid oxygen on trains to Maharashtra in cryogenic tankers after the Maharashtra government’s request. The Centre was coordinating daily with States to assess needs and assure help.
With all controls lost on the narrative, the best that Shiv Sena could come up with in response to Goyal’s statement was scorn, disdain and name-calling through their Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi.
In the end, when it comes to the leadership in Maharashtra, the priority has always seemed to be about being on the winning side of the narrative over what’s best for public welfare. Even if they did, the win of Maharashtra’s win was definitely not a win for its people. The state government was not living up to the end of its bargain and people were losing lives.
4th stage: Depression
“Leave me alone!” – This by far is the most uncomfortable stage of the grief process. It involves withdrawal from social life and a long spell of silence.
The leader of this unholy alliance in Maharashtra, the mastermind, the wizard at the behest of whose political manoeuvre this coalition government had been gobbled together up, was nowhere to be found, seen or heard.
He made time to time public appearances, sometimes seen getting vaccinated, sometimes calling for working together with the Centre or sometimes supporting now ex-Home Minister Anil Deshmukh in Vaze-gate.
One wonders, why was Sharad Pawar quiet all this while? No word was uttered from his side as leaders of his alliance be it belonging from the Shiv Sena, Congress or even NCP, were putting the lives of millions at risk in Maharashtra.
Silence implies consent, some say. By being silent throughout, as Maharashtra was being pushed towards its depressing fate, making it to be a cause of public health scare for the entire nation, Sharad Pawar has made his intentions well-heard.
Silence is as big as a political statement there could be.
5th stage: Acceptance
What about acceptance?
If we have learnt anything from the mismanagement by the Maharashtra government during the first wave of COVID-19, then we for sure know that there is not a sense of regret or a shred of courage in them to accept the absolute disaster that they have created for themselves and for the rest of the nation.
The grief must go.. on
Maharashtra’s leadership is oscillating between the 1st phases of grief, resisting strongly to move beyond. Blaming, pontificating, intimidating, lying, faking and doing everything except what they were supposed to. Given the circumstances and the attitude of the MVA government, it seems grief is here to stay in Maharashtra, sadly.
The grim situation in Maharashtra, in the end, does do something. It gives us all a picture of what grief feels like to the helpless masses in a democracy – the sense of grief when one gets something they didn’t choose, something they didn’t vote for, something that had just befallen on them – like the Coronavirus.
(This article has been written by Vasudha Madhogaria, who is an observer of politics and media)