Madhya Pradesh

Rural spread

Print edition : July 03, 2020

Supporters of BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia performing a yagna at a temple for the speedy recovery of their leader from COVID-19, in Bhopal on June 15. Photo: PTI

Even as the coronavirus infection moves rapidly across the villages of Madhya Pradesh, the BJP government pats itself on the back for its handling of the situation but continues to focus on consolidating its political power.

In Madhya Pradesh, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continue to court controversy even as the public health crisis relating to the coronavirus pandemic deepens and the fatality rate shows no sign of abating. As of June 15, the number of positive cases in the State stood at 10,802 and the number of casualties at 459, for a death rate of 4.24 per cent.

Since early March, Madhya Pradesh has been the epicentre of political machinations that political observers believe compromised the State’s ability to deal with the disease. Another high-decibel political drama surfaced on June 10 after an audio clip emerged on social media claiming to expose the BJP top leadership’s purported role in hatching the coup against the erstwhile government. Former Chief Minister Kamal Nath launched a scathing attack on the Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime, asserting that the Congress’ charges against the BJP had been validated.

“I was claiming since day one that the BJP had toppled my democratically elected government through a conspiracy and allurement as I was waiving loans of farmers, offering employment to the youth and safeguarding dignity of women,” Kamal Nath tweeted.

The Congress maintains that the BJP’s power grab followed by Chouhan’s one-month-long absolutist rule, during which the State did not have either a Home Minister or a Health Minister, is responsible for the explosion of infections across the State, particularly in its finance hub, Indore. The June 10 audio clip allegedly has Chouhan saying: “It was the decision of Central leadership which said that this government should be toppled or else it will ruin everything.”

The COVID-19 pandemic in Madhya Pradesh is indeed entering a fraught phase, with the number of positive cases increasing in rural pockets. The latest report from the State government revealed that as many as 961 people in 462 villages have contracted the virus, unleashing a major fear of community spread. Of the 951 who were found positive in a testing drive, 32 succumbed to the disease. At least 479 of those who tested positive are migrant labourers who recently returned to the State.

The pandemic’s speedy spread in the hinterland is obvious when one looks at the numbers. On May 21, only 186 villages had infections. Over the next 22 days, the infection spread to 462 villages.

The Congress has time and again pointed out that politically motivated transfers of administrative officials, the lack of a Health Minister for over a month, and the shocking number of positive cases amongst Health Department officials are responsible for increasing the coronavirus threat in the State. Abbas Hafeez, State spokesperson of the Congress, who spoke to Frontline over the phone from Bhopal, iterated that the government lacked a road map. “If this government had had any sense of urgency in dealing with the virus, the virus would not have spread in all 52 districts. The number of positive cases would not have crossed the 10,000 mark. Shivraj Singh Chouhan has his priorities fixed on the upcoming byelections, and all that his partymen are doing is flouting physical distancing norms, stepping up membership drives and focussing on winning the 24 Legislative Assembly constituencies that have fallen vacant.”

“The BJP has thrown caution to the wind. They are focussed on creating defections. Every day they are bringing Congress workers from green zone districts to the red zone of Bhopal and getting them to join their party so that the optics show that they are on a strong footing. When these workers travel back to the green zones, they become potential carriers. Some time ago, half of our districts were coronavirus free and now the situation is alarming,” Hafeez said.

BJP leaders’ mass contact programmes, as caught on camera, give potency to Hafeez’s argument. On June 12, former BJP MLA Sudarshan Gupta organised a programme at Banganga area in Indore to celebrate Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar’s birthday. Gupta gathered 2,000 families to distribute rations to them; chaos ensued. The next day the police registered a case against unidentified persons under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (disobeying a government official’s order banning public assembly). Later, Gupta was also named in the first information report. Inspector Sanjay Mishra of the Malharganj police station confirmed to the media that the organisers had not asked for permission for the event. The situation in Indore is grim with 4,069 cases as of June 15.

The recklessness reoccurred on June 14: State Cabinet Minister Govind Singh Rajput of the BJP attended a large gathering in Rahatgarh town of Sagar district where physical distancing norms were openly flouted. In December 2018, Rajput won the Surkhi Assembly seat as a Congress candidate and was among the 22 rebels who quit the party following Jyotiraditya Scindia’s decision to jump ship to the BJP. Since then Rajput has stepped up his efforts to get the BJP ticket from Surkhi. Rahatgarh town is the political nucleus of Surkhi.

However, the BJP has been giving itself credit for its deft handling of the pandemic in Madhya Pradesh. On June 14, Chouhan told the media: “All parameters in the State have improved significantly as there has been a decrease of 151 active cases over the past 24 hours. A remarkable number of 300 patients have recovered from the infection over the same period across the State. Now the number of active cases stands at 2,666 and the doubling rate of the cases has increased to 34.1 days. The recovery rate stands at 71.1 per cent. While the doubling rate is the best in the country, the recovery rate is second only to Rajasthan’s 75.3 per cent.”

During the lockdown the State government has come out with programmes such as the Rojgar Setu Portal, Covid Mitra, and the “Sarthak Light” app. According to the government, the Rojgar Setu Portal, which has registered 7.30 lakh migrants and 5,246 employers and job providers since its launch on June 10, generated employment for 302 migrant workers in just three days. Through Covid Mitra, the government plans to rope in volunteers who will be provided with an oximeter to check the oxygen levels of people. The purpose of the Sarthak Light app is to inform people about the location of the nearest COVID-19 treatment facility and sample collection centre.

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