Interview: Sachin Sawant

Sachin Sawant: ‘Democracy under threat’

Print edition : May 07, 2021

Sachin Sawant, spokesperson for the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, a file photograph. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Interview with Sachin Sawant, spokesperson for the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee.

Sachin Sawant, spokesperson for the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, defended the policies and actions of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and said “creating a negative narrative” was the guiding light of the Centre even in times of crisis such as the pandemic. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

Why are Maharashtra’s numbers rising so suddenly?

You must remember that Maharashtra is the economic hub of the country. People started returning as the lockdown eased. The numbers increased. They may have been asymptomatic. They could have carried a strain from wherever they came from… there are so many possibilities. Also, international air traffic is the maximum in Mumbai. Plus, people didn’t pay attention to COVID protocols.

The Centre has accused Maharashtra of losing control. While it is true that the number of cases has soared, there is obvious politics being played, as has been the case from the time the MVA started its tenure in 2019.

Democracy is under threat from the government at the Centre. There is complete disregard for political discourse and no respect for the Constitution. The Centre has been continually trying to create hurdles in the State. Their non-cooperation is conspicuous. Health is a State subject. They should give us strategic information, provide resources and give financial support, but we have not got any of this. Just a blame game is going on. Why did the Centre take control of the distribution of personal protective equipment, masks, ventilators? They centralised all these and provided inadequate supply. At a time like this, there is an urgent need to work as a team. They are bent on creating a negative narrative. For the past one year, there has been unnecessary interference, an autocratic attitude and a partisan approach… party politics has taken precedence over any cooperation for COVID control.

The BJP has a gigantic propaganda machinery, and by virtue of that they have a larger control of the narrative. The media is used to target the opposition. We have been watching all this happen. There has been a concerted attack on the MVA government, and, unfortunately, the media fall prey [to it] and raise non-relevant issues to attack the government. For example, the death of the sadhus in Palghar last year. That village where it happened, the residents had been hearing rumours of kidnappings. It was in the middle of the lockdown, and when a vehicle with strangers drove through in the middle of the night, the residents got suspicious. But the media turned this into a murder of Hindu priests and made it out as if the MVA government was anti-Hindu.

Also read: Maharashtra government opts for cooperation over coercion in its new COVID control policy

Likewise, the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case. That was conveniently politicised because of the Bihar election, and now what has happened to all that hype and accusations? Nothing. And the same in the Antilia case.

The BJP specialises in artificially creating perceptions. They have created thousands of social media accounts to spread untruths. This is being investigated by the Mumbai Police. They are misusing their power at the Centre and the machinery at their disposal to create negative perceptions. The politics of the BJP focusses on pressuring State administrators and officers. We’ve heard that an Enforcement Directorate notice was given to a relative of Param Bir Singh… these are all coercive measures.

So now understand this distortion of the narrative in the COVID context. Why did the government delay the first lockdown last year? COVID was already well known in the world by February. Why did the Centre wait till the end of March to declare a lockdown? Was it because of other priorities? [Narendra] Modi wanted to give full play to the Namaste Trump extravaganza in Ahmedabad. Then, they were focussed on toppling the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. All this was ranked as more important than the lockdown.

Later, they tried to divert the narrative by blaming the Tablighi Jamaat meeting for the spread of COVID, but what about their delay in implementing the first lockdown. And now what about the Kumbh and the political rallies for the West Bengal election? These are being allowed when the second wave is on and the dangers of COVID are well known.

Maharashtra has its most experienced government ever right now. It has the experience of three parties and almost all the Ministers have had at least 15 years in government. We have been giving a very honest picture of the situation. Data are paramount for progress at a time like this. But Modi has taken away the right of the public’s access to data. In Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, the situation is worse. To not be honest about data is a disservice to the democratic structure of this country.

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