Opinion: Sonia Gandhi brings focus back on COVID-19

Addressing the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on May 10, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said, "The public health system across the has all but collapsed.

Venkat Parsa

What was expected of the Modi Government was actually delivered by leader of the principal Opposition party, Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi was categorical that it was not a system failure but the failure of the Modi Government to grapple with the deadly and devastating situation caused by the Corona pandemic.

Significantly, Sonia Gandhi succeeded in bringing the focus back on to the fight against the Corona pandemic, as the Second Surge of pandemic did strike the nation with great fury.

This was at a time when the Modi Establishment was engrossed in its bid to conquer West Bengal, instead of combating the Corona Virus pandemic.

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Congress President Sonia Gandhi delivered a hard-hitting message to the Modi Establishment on battling the Corona pandemic. It was that the sudden surge was not a failure of the system, as such, but a failure of the Modi Government to demonstrate its political will in the fight against Corona.

Addressing the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on May 10, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said, “The public health system across the has all but collapsed. Vaccination coverage is woefully short of need and not expanding at the rate at which it must. The Modi Government has abdicated its responsibility. It has obliged the States to bear the cost of vaccinating the hundreds of millions in the 18 to 45 age group.

Every expert has said that it would have made more sense and it would have been financially more equitable for the Centre to bear the costs. But we know the Modi Government has other priorities, pursuing grandiose projects against the force of public opinion and the face of widespread criticism. It is also a shame that the Central Government continues to discriminate against Opposition-ruled States.”

Earlier, in her address to Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) meeting on May 7, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said, “Let us be absolutely clear — the system hasn’t failed. The Modi Government has been unable to constructively channelize India’s many strengths and resources. I say this categorically — India is crippled by a political  leadership today that has no empathy for the people. The Modi Government has failed the people of our country.”

Till the single-phase Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the three-phase Assam and a majority of the eight-phases of the West Bengal Assembly elections were completed, the Modi Government could not bring to bear its focus on the primary task of fighting the Second Surge of Corona pandemic that proved to be disastrous and devastating.

On the day of the five Assembly elections results on May 2, Sonia Gandhi came up with a joint statement by 13 Opposition parties, in a bid to bring the Modi Government focus on to the unprecedented Corona pandemic surge across the country.

The message was simple and straight. Mass vaccination is the only credible way to combat the pandemic. There was no other magic wand; and there was already a Budgetary allocation of ₹ 35,000 crore available with the Government.

It stated, “In times of the uncontrollable surge of the pandemic across our country: We call upon the Central government to focus all attention in ensuring the uninterrupted flow of Oxygen supplies to all hospitals and health centres across the country. We call upon the Central Government to immediately launch a free mass vaccination programme across the country. The Budgetary allocation of ₹ 35,000 crore for the vaccination programme must be utilised for this.”

Apart from Congress President Sonia Gandhi, other signatories to the statement were H D Deve Gowda (JD-S); Sharad Pawar (NCP); Uddhav Thackeray (SS); Mamata Banerjee (TMC); Hemant Soren (JMM); M K Stalin (DMK); Kum Mayawati (BSP); Dr Farooq Abdullah (JKPA); Akhilesh Yadav (SP); Tejaswi Yadav (RJD); D Raja (CPI); and Sitaram Yechury (CPM).

Later, at the Congress Parliamentary Party, Sonia Gandhi directed all the Congress MPs to transfer MPLADS Funds available with them to the fight against Corona.

Prior to that, Sonia Gandhi transferred her own MPLADS Funds in Rae Bareli for the fight against Corona.

At her initiative, the AICC Corona War Room was set up in the party headquarters and at the level of the PCCs in the States.

Indian Youth Congress President B V Shrinivas also set up Covid War Room that won laurels for its active work to reach out to the Corona victims and to help alleviate their sufferings. His stellar role in reaching oxygen cylinders at their request to the New Zealand Embassy and The Philippines Embassy raised the bar on the role of an Opposition party in a democracy.

Sonia Gandhi addressed a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 8, pointing out that despite the first mover advantage in Vaccines, the Government moved at a snail’s pace. In the fight against Corona, the only safety measure is vaccination. But the Modi Government failed to take advantage of Vaccine drive and instead chose to distribute abroad before the Indian people could be vaccinated.

On April 10, she held a meeting of the Congress-Ruled State Chief Ministers to focus on vaccinating people before it is gifted abroad.

Sonia Gandhi followed it up with another letter to Prime Minister Modi in which she highlighted three issues. One, for focus on Vaccine drive. Two, to exempt all Corona-related medicines, equipment and support-infrastructure from GST. Three, as the nation heads for restrictions like curfew, work and travel restrictions, besides closure and Lockdowns, there is a need for putting at least ₹ 6,000 in the hands of all eligible citizens, apart from helping in the safe transportation of Migrant workers, following reverse migrations.

As Corona pandemic Second Surge hit the nation with fury, Sonia Gandhi convened the highest policy-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on April 17. Her focus was on how the Congress put the fight against the pandemic above party politics, by extending the hand of cooperation since February 2021 and asked the party to play its role accordingly.

On April 18, Sonia Gandhi again wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi, offering constructive suggestions on ramping up vaccination drive, which is the only way forward in tackling a pandemic.

Apart from her, Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh addressed letters to Prime Minister Modi. But all these letters were ignored with a contempt that is unbecoming of the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy.

Unfazed by the Modi Government refusal to accept the unconditional hand of constructive cooperation, Sonia Gandhi mobilized the Congress party and Congress men and women across the country. She succeeded in transforming the party organization into an instrument of national social service that she always believed to be the ideal for a political party in a democracy.

Sonia Gandhi galvanized the Congress organization, gearing it up in the fight against the Corona pandemic. That, too, at a time when the Ruling Modi dispensation threw up is hands, virtually abdicating its role and responsibility in leading the fight against the pandemic.

Views expressed are personal 

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.

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