The Grand Old Party moves its creaking bones
Help at hand
The crisis has everyone on their feet. Even the Grand Old Party is moving its creaking bones to take action. The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, is desperate to prove that states ruled by her party are tackling the coronavirus crisis better than the states under the Bharatiya Janata Party. She first wrote to the Congress chief ministers and followed it up with a video conference with them. Her sole concern was to ensure that the maximum possible help reached the poor. Apart from medical care, she asked the chief ministers and other ministers to ensure that the poor didn’t go hungry. This triggered a competition of sorts among Congress states such as Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, who felt envious of Punjab and Maharashtra scoring better than them on the welfare scale. While Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh also took commendable steps, they failed to match the communication skills of Uddhav Thackeray and Amarinder Singh, who succeeded in sending out clear messages of their good management. Even some diehard critics of Shiv Sena politics were surprised by Thackeray’s administrative skills and inclusive politics and declared him the best manager of the crisis. This is quite something given that Maharashtra is one of the worst affected states in the country because of more foreign travels of its residents. In Punjab, Singh managed to force the police to distribute flour, pulses and sugar to the poor living in slums. But sources revealed Sonia was still not satisfied and expected the states to be more generous than they have been. Are the states listening?
With crisis comes creativity. But with creativity comes foolishness. The coronavirus scare, too, triggered bursts of stupidity and creativity in India. After the initial claims that Covid-19 can be cured with traditional medicines and quackery — this madness went so far as to organizing public functions for drinking cow urine — there were wild speculations about how drinking alcohol could protect people from the dreaded virus. But all these far-fetched claims seem to have subsided once the threat became bigger and the death count of affected persons from across the world kept rising.
But rumours do not die easily. When long queues in front of liquor shops in Haryana continued unabated during the nationwide lockdown, the media confronted the deputy chief minister, Dushyant Chautala, with uncomfortable questions. The deputy chief minister was asked why liquor shops were opening at a time when essential items were not available. Chautala came up with a gem: “Public health crisis is already troubling us. If drinking stops, large number of people will fall sick. They will come to hospitals and the doctors will have to treat them. That is an avoidable diversion.”
The former chief minister of Karnataka, PC Siddaramaiah, has finally taken the coronavirus warnings seriously after he was found to have entertained visitors before the lockdown. The leader of the Opposition has since switched to donning protective gear such as masks whenever he meets anyone. He even turned up for a party meeting to assess the pandemic situation fitted with an N95 mask — the version prescribed by the World Health Organization. This prompted other leaders to quickly dig into their pockets and put on masks before getting on with the meeting.
Fall in line
Death — or the fear of it — remains the great leveller. The Karnataka state secretariat building, Vidhana Soudha, made all leaders fall in line a few days before it was locked down to the public. Leaders including the chief minister, BS Yediyurappa, had to queue up to sanitize their hands before stepping into the building. Surprisingly, even those who usually dash through the gates gleefully listened to the guards who asked them to return and get the hand scrub. Normally guards who dared to stop a leader would have faced the music.