Abbas Hafeez, one of the Congress spokespersons in Madhya Pradesh, has turned into a much-disliked figure on social media overnight after he issued a video defending the organisers of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at the Nizamuddin markaz in Delhi.
While his claims in the video fly in the face of facts, what intrigues political observers and local leaders is the Congress' silence over it. The party’s leadership has not responded to the video, either by way of denial or clarification.
In the absence of either, Hafeez's remarks remain the party’s position. Particularly since it comes from an office-bearer authorised to express the party’s views in public and in media. Such a statement by a Congress spokesperson — that deviates from the party’s official stand — also reflects a lack of coordination between the central leadership and state units of Congress.
Till now, no top leaders of the Congress have come up with any statement on the Tablighi Jamaat incident and have clearly stayed away from making any comments. In fact, Congress president Sonia Gandhi set up a Central Control Room at the AICC HQ under the supervision of party general secretary KC Venugopal to monitor the ground situation on the spread of the virus, medical preparedness and relief work being undertaken by the party and state agencies.
The Abbas Hafeez video clip accessed by Firstpost shows the Congress spokesperson questioning the Central and Delhi governments, and accuses the media of "giving different numbers of COVID-19 patients", which according to him are false.
“This video is in extremely bad taste and paints a bad image of Congress party, especially in Madhya Pradesh. Nowhere any of our top leaders have said anything on the (Nizamuddin) markaz issue. Congress never supports such things. In fact, Soniaji is very much concerned about the spread of coronavirus in the country and she has created a control room in our party headquarters in Delhi. Due to such kind of comments as made by Hafeez in the video and that appeared on Twitter, people in Madhya Pradesh may go against Congress,” a Bhopal-based Congressman told Firstpost.
According to a source in Congress, Hafeez was selected as the spokesperson of Madhya Congress through a talent-hunt organised by the party, ahead of the Assembly election in 2018.
When the incident came to light and the administration got on a war-footing to evacuate thousands of Tablighi Jamaat attendees, who had congregated at the Nizamuddin markaz from various parts of India and abroad, Hafeez released this video claiming that no attendee was tested positive.
The video went viral in Bhopal and outside the state, as it was shared on Twitter as well.
To justify his claim that none of the attendees had tested positive, Hafeez added a small clipping of one Dr Sadab, who too claimed that “anyone (attendee) can be suspected (of having the virus) due to cold and cough, but it doesn’t make any person infected by the coronavirus. No one has been tested positive”.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, around 9,000 primary contacts of the Nizamuddin congregation attendees have been identified and 1,800 quarantined. From Delhi itself, 53 attendees have tested positive. Nine people, who died due to coronavirus in Telangana, were a part of this religious gathering, making the Nizamuddin Markaz a COVID-19 hotspot. One of the attendees from Kashmir, a cleric, also died after he tested positive for the virus.
Given the severity of the pandemic that has cost 47,500 lives globally, the statement made in the video has created a stir in the political circles in Bhopal, as opposition leaders have questioned the stoic silence maintained by the Congress till now.
Out of 107 Tablighi Jamaat members from Madhya Pradesh who had attended the Nizamuddin markaz event, 36 were from Bhopal and all have been isolated in Delhi.
“Don’t know whether it’s the official stand of Congress or not, as there has been no denial or clarification from the party on this. But, it’s a very irresponsible statement made on social media by the official Congress spokesperson, which appears more personal in nature or that of the Tablighi Jamaat. His video also questions the stand of Congress party on the Tablighi Jamaat issue,” says ex-Congress spokesperson and leader Pankaj Chaturvedi, who quit the party along with Jyotiraditya Scindia last month.
Questioning Congress' silence, BJP spokesperson from Madhya Pradesh, Govind Maloo remarked, “Through this video, the Congress spokesperson has tried to spread misinformation and justify the statement made by (Nizamuddin) markaz chief Maulana Saad, who had criticised the government’s lockdown. While giving this dreaded coronavirus, a religious colour, they have blamed the government at every step, which is unfortunate. Congress must condemn the video released by its spokesperson rather than promoting vote-bank politics.”
Maloo was referring to a leaked audio of Maulana Saad, where he reportedly told Tablighi Jamaat leaders to "not abide by government/medical guidelines with regards to the coronavirus outbreak".
While there had been lapses on the establishment’s part, the political parties and their spokespersons must keep it in mind that public health and safety is paramount; political blame game can follow later – at least not at the cost of human lives in this time of COVID-19 pandemic.
Updated Date: Apr 02, 2020 22:28:32 IST