COVID-19 Update

Madhya Pradesh: Communal virus

Print edition : July 31, 2020

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan flagging off vehicles as part of the government’s “kill corona campaign” in Bhopal on July 1. Photo: PTI

BJP MP Jyotiraditya Scindia greeting Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan during the “Virtual Rally” at the party headquarters in Bhopal on July 3. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

The BJP in Madhya Pradesh resorts to divisive rhetoric and tries to market its welfare schemes with an eye on the Assembly byelections even as the State is witnessing a steady increase in the caseload.

EVEN as COVID-19 cases are steadily increasing in Madhya Pradesh, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has resorted to diversionary tactics, upping the ante against the opposition Congress and polarising the people on communal lines by renewing its vitriol against those who attended the Tablighi Jamaat conference held in early March in Nizamuddin, New Delhi, and blaming them for the spread of the infection. As on July 6, the cumulative positive cases in the State stood at 15,284 and deaths at 617. July 6 saw the highest single-day spike with 354 cases.

On July 5, Health Minister Narottam Mishra sought to blame the previous Kamal Nath government for the spiralling caseload. He said that the Congress government’s “inaction” when the Tablighi Jamaat attendees returned to the State in droves proved costly. (The BJP assumed power in the State on March 23.)

Narottam Mishra was speaking at a function at Bairad town in Shivpuri district. “People who arrived in flights from Dubai and [Tablighi] Jamaatis are responsible for bringing coronavirus to Indore. The infection spread to other parts of the State from Indore,” he said, adding that “Kamal Nath was busy with Bollywood actors Jacqueline [Fernandez] and Salman Khan, and did not hold a single meeting to chalk out a strategy to tackle the spread.” He was referring to a Bollywood event that the Congress Chief Minister was planning to hold in the State.

Rebutting the Minister’s charges, Congress spokesperson Abbas Hafeez Khan told Frontline that the BJP had failed to contain the virus and was hence trying to whip up communal passion. “There is nothing unusual about what they are doing. The BJP’s only hope in winning the byelections in the State lies in how best it can fracture society on religious grounds. People are disillusioned with [Chief Minister] Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Chouhan also knows this and is hence blaming a handful of Tablighi Jamaatis for the health crisis in the State,” Abbas Hafeez said.

Byelections to 24 Assembly seats, most of them falling in the Gwalior-Chambal region, are due in the State. The BJP with 107 seats in the 230-member Assembly must win at least nine seats to remain in power.

Hafeez said “Kamal Nath had initiated a phased restriction, closing down schools and shopping malls first [on March 8]. But the BJP felled his democratically elected government, moved his Ministers, including the Health Minister, to a resort in Bengaluru and undermined Kamal Nath’s proactive measures.”

The Congress was quick to point out that the BJP’s efforts to grab power resulted in the State being without a Health Minister for almost a month. Congress leaders said that the fact that top officials in the Health Department had contracted the virus was a testimony to the government’s lackadaisical attitude to the pandemic. The BJP’s continued membership drive and pictures of its leaders flouting physical distancing norms have invited criticism.

As part of efforts to restrict the spread of the virus and upgrade public health preparedness, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government planned to create a plasma bank and conduct door-to-door testing. On June 30, an official said that a plasma bank had been set up at the Sri Aurobindo Institute of Medical Science in Indore. The facility would store the plasma of patients who have recovered from the infection. Narottam Mishra tweeted: “The first plasma bank in the State is being set up by SAIMS to introduce plasma therapy in Madhya Pradesh for the treatment of coronavirus infection. This bank will prove effective for the treatment of patients.”

Kill corona campaign

On July 1, the government launched a door-to-door survey across the State in order to identify people who have COVID-19 symptoms. Advertised as the “corona kill campaign”, the drive is to be completed by July 15. “A health survey has begun in all the 52 districts in the State under the ‘corona kill campaign’”, said Additional Chief Secretary (Health) Mohmmad Suleman. He said that under the programme, the State’s 7.5 crore population would be screened. Health Commissioner Faiz Ahmed Kidwai said: “We have conducted health surveys in 86,749 houses under 52 slums in Bhopal in which around 4.13 lakh people have been covered. Samples of 6,455 suspected coronavirus cases were taken during the survey. Of them, 160 samples tested positive.” As per the Health Department, the drive is being conducted by around three lakh people, including anganwadi workers, volunteers and non-governmental organisation workers, who have been trained by health care experts.

At the same time, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime appears determined to wage a political slugfest ahead of the byelections. On July 3, the Chief Minister launched a scathing attack on Kamal Nath, mocking him as a “bigger problem than COVID-19”. “Is Kamal Nath capable of fighting COVID-19? He is a bigger problem in Madhya Pradesh than COVID-19. We fought the crisis well,” he said, in his address to the people on the occasion of his 100th day in office.

Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Kamal Patel demanded a Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) probe against Kamal Nath. He said when Kamal Nath was Commerce Minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre he had favoured imports from China. By criticising the Congress for pooling in funds from China and other sources to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, the BJP’s top leadership in New Delhi has been trying to create an impression of impropriety on the part of the Congress. Kamal Patel wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah on June 30, seeking action against Kamal Nath. “The way the then Commerce Minister [Kamal Nath] gave relaxation to China in imports, it appears it was done in lieu of granting assistance to the foundation,” he said in his letter.

The BJP government is heavily marketing Kamal Patel’s welfare schemes and doleouts in the midst of the pandemic with an eye on the byelections. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, in his recent address to the people, said: “We have deposited Rs.40,000 crore into the accounts of the poor in Madhya Pradesh under different schemes. We made arrangements to buy farmers’ produce even in this crisis.” He alleged that “Kamal Nath did not pay insurance premium. I [Shivraj Singh Chouhan] paid the premium as soon as I formed the government and deposited Rs.2,990 crore of insurance into farmers’ accounts.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi amplified the BJP leaders’ self-congratulatory chatter on July 4 when he heaped praise on Madhya Pradesh’s handling of the public health crisis while reviewing the work done by party workers across the country.

Narottam Mishra attempted to trivialise the concerns regarding the situation in Indore, which has emerged as the State’s coronavirus epicentre. He claimed that Indore had recovered exceptionally well from the health crisis compared with Delhi and Mumbai.

As on July 6, Indore recorded 4,954 cases and 246 deaths, while Bhopal reported 3,110 cases and 112 deaths.