Left leaders in Bengal held while protesting against State's handling of COVID-19 crisis

Published : April 18, 2020 19:20 IST

A member of an NGO distributing food packets to the poor in Kolkata during the lockdown, on April 7. Photo: RAJEEV BHATT

Top Left Front leaders of West Bengal, including Polit Bureau members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Biman Bose, Surjya Kanta Mishra and Mohammed Salim, were arrested in Kolkata while staging a protest against the State government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The main issues highlighted in the Left’s protest were alleged irregularities in the distribution of free ration to the poor, lack of transparency on the part of the government while revealing COVID-19 data, and the demand for more number of tests to be carried out across the State. The Left leaders were arrested for breaking lockdown rules.

All the top State-level leaders of the Left parties, including those of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), were present in the protest. “The whole world is now talking about one thing—testing for COVID-19. Now finally the State government is waking up to the fact that not much tests have taken place here. It is a dangerous thing that NICED (National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases) had 7,500 kits, which it was ready to share with the State government, but still full-fledged tests were not conducted,” said CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and West Bengal secretary of the party, Surjya Kanta Mishra.

Mishra further said that the people need to know what was happening and how much COVID-19 had spread in the State. “If people know what is happening in their region, only then will they come forward and help out the government. Information must be shared with the people. There should be bulletins about what is happening in the districts, in the blocks,” said Mishra

Polit Bureau member and chairman of the Left Front of West Bengal, Biman Bose, spoke of the irregularities and corruption in the distribution of ration to the poor. “We are here to protest against such things, but we are maintaining social distance,” said Bose. Upon being arrested, the 79-year-old communist veteran quipped, “We were maintaining social distancing, but the police are not.”

The Left Front also raised the demand to the Centre to put money directly into the hands of the people. “There is no food, no employment for the people… the Centre must immediately put Rs.7,500 into the accounts of the poor through its Jan Dhan scheme,” said Mishra

While being led away into a police van, Mishra said, “They [the State government] are trying to throttle the voice of the opposition. But they will not be able to succeed. Instead of fighting the Coronavirus, they are fighting the Opposition.” This was the first time in the political history of Bengal that so many top Left leaders were arrested in one single swoop.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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