ThePrint editor Shekhar Gupta, who has an ‘expert opinion’ to make on every subject under the sun, has now decided that the central government is responsible for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the country. In its latest editorial titled the 50WordEdit of the portal, ThePrint claimed that the Narendra Modi government made the mistake of treating India as a monolith in its Covid management. They claimed that the Modi govt adopted a ‘one size fits all approach, which forces the states to follow diktats from the top and robbed their agency to deal with the pandemic based on their own realities and needs’.
The benefit of commentary like 50WordEdit is that, they can make serious allegations without elaborating on it. without giving any evidence. And this is one such example. Shekhar Gupta claims Modi govt took a one-size-fits-all approach, but didn’t give a single example. Because, there is none, at least from recent times.
It is true that the Indian govt started with this approach at the beginning when the nationwide lockdown was imposed. But after that, there is not any major decision that does not give any flexibility to the states. After the lockdowns were opened up gradually, the orders by the home ministry gave the states the power to decide to impose additional restrictions as per their needs. And states too acted accordingly, for example, different states opened up schools and colleges at different times, based on the Covid situation in their states.
Even now, several states have imposed various restrictions on movement of people to contain the infection, and there is no evidence of the centre not allowing states to decide on their own in such matters.
It needs to be remembered that healthcare is a state subject, and it is up to the state governments to upgrade and strengthen then health infrastructure. State health departments are responsible for the management of healthcare facilities for Covid patients, the centre has not many roles in it apart from extending a helping hand. States were and are free to create new facilities, dedicate new facilities for Covid care, to strengthen testing infrastructure, contract tracing of positive cases etc. There was no diktat from the Modi government regarding such things to the state govts, so it is not clear what ThePrint wants to mean by saying that centre treated India as a monolith.
States have been free to decide their own quarantine, isolation and testing policy from the beginning. While some states made it mandatory to test every incoming passenger and quarantine them, some others didn’t, while others decided on the basis of the source of the passengers. Similarly, some states ordered private hospitals to set aside beds and ICU units for COVID-19 and claimed to have ‘created’ new facilities, while many other states actually built giant temporary hospitals. These examples do not point toward any diktat from the centre to states to follow any particular strategy, as they implemented different strategies to deal with the pandemic.
Contrary to the claim by ThePrint, the central govt is constantly engaging the states in deciding strategies to win the Corona war. PM Narendra Modi has himself held almost a dozen meetings with the chief ministers over the issue. The latest such meeting was on 8th April, where at least some of the opposition CMs were looked like not interested in the serious matter. In the meeting hold via video conferencing which was open for the public to view, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal seemed to be bored, as he was seen slouching on the chair, stretching his hands, and occasionally laughing. Uddhav Thackeray, which heads the state with highest numbers of Covid cases at present, was seen fiddling with his phone, instead of listening what others were saying. Mamata Banerjee, another opposition CM, didn’t even attend the meeting, like several earlier ones.
Soon after the meeting, the central govt accepted one demand made by the govts of Maharashtra and some other states, when it removed the requirement for local bridge trials for COVID-19 vaccines which have been approved by US, EU, UK, Japan or WHO. This punctures the claim that the centre is diktating terms to the states, but it is not the only example of Modi govt listening to state governments on the war against Coronavirus.
The central govt has accepted several such demands in the past one year. The first such major decision was to run special trains to allow migrant labours to return to their home states during the lockdown, agreeing to demands of some opposition ruled states. While the Modi government’s idea was that everyone will stay where they are to prevent the spread of the virus, opposition CMs like Uddhav Thackeray and Arvind Kejriwal didn’t agree to this, and sabotaged the situation by triggering protests by the migrants wanting to return home. After the situation was worsened by a motivated media campaign, the centre was forced to allow the movement of migrants, which ultimately resulted in the virus spreading all over the country riding the trains.
There is not a single evidence that the Modi govt prevented the states from gearing up their health infrastructure. This 50WordEdit by Shekhar Gupta seems nothing else but the ongoing left-liberal media effort to absolve Maharashtra govt of any blame for the Covid-19 situation in the state. The state alone accounts for almost 45% of total active cases in the country, with test positivity rate hovering above 25%. But the left-liberals can’t stop admiring how Uddhav Thackeray sounds ‘reassuring’ when he speaks, completely ignoring the massive mismanagement of the state govt in dealing with the pandemic.