COVID-19 second wave: Political parties shouldn't squander Rahul Gandhi, Manmohan Singh's attempts to forge political consensus
The Congress' top leadership has signalled that it is seeking to make the first moves towards bringing about a political consensus
Despite the second wave of COVID-19 ravaging large parts of India, political leaders have largely failed to rise above partisan differences to meet the unfolding crisis. However, on Sunday, a welcome change from this trend was seen in the form of two public statements by the Congress' Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi.
In a tweet, Rahul announced that he will cancel all his public rallies in poll-bound West Bengal following the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the country.
In response, the BJP's Karnataka unit took a jibe at the Congress leader, saying —
Rahul Gandhi must be the only Politician on earth who can cancel his public rallies that are not scheduled ! ! !
— BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) April 19, 2021
Later on Sunday, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the COVID-19 crisis, suggested five measures to tackle the pandemic.
Through these two statements, the Congress' top leadership has signalled that it is seeking to make the first moves towards bringing about a political consensus, at least as far as confronting the pandemic is concerned. To this extent, Rahul and Singh's statements hold much significance in the context of an otherwise no-holds-barred approach to politics.
However, before going into the ramifications of the two statements, it is pertinent to look at what the Congress leaders said.
On Sunday morning, Rahul Gandhi said —
In view of the Covid situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal.
I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 18, 2021
He made the announcement on a day when India recorded 2,61,500 coronavirus infections, taking the country's total tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,47,88,109.
Till Sunday, Rahul had addressed only two rallies in West Bengal and was scheduled to address rallies in Malda and Murshidabad in the upcoming days, as noted by Hindustan Times.
Manmohan Singh, on his part, wrote in his letter that ramping up vaccination is the key to battling the pandemic and said one "must not look at absolute numbers but the total percentage of population vaccinated".
Noting that India currently has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population, Singh said he is certain that with the right policy design, "we can do much better and very quickly".
One of the key suggestions that Singh gave in his letter was that the government should indicate how vaccines will be distributed across states based on a transparent formula.
Similar attempts have been made at co-operation across party lines in the face of spiralling coronavirus cases. For example, at an all-party meeting in Maharashtra to discuss the prevailing COVID-19 situation, BJP leaders did not oppose Uddhav Thackeray's proposal regarding a lockdown. The saffron party's Chandrakant Patil only said that while the party felt the lockdown was necessary, the state government should first work out a financial package for the people who will be affected.
However, such examples of political co-operation have been the exception rather than the norm. Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, in his response to Manmohan Singh, took several digs at the Congress even as the former prime minister's letter was bereft of any direct criticism.
The health minister said, "History shall be kinder to you Dr Manmohan Singh ji if your offer of 'constructive cooperation' and valuable advice was followed by your @INCIndia leaders as well in such extraordinary times!"
Vardhan said in his letter that 'irresponsible' public pronouncements made by some Congress leaders have resulted in a below national average vaccination coverage of senior citizens and even front-line workers in some of the Congress-ruled states.
Similarly, Rahul remarked before announcing the cancellation of his forthcoming rallies, "I've seen such a large crowd of patients and dead people for the first time too!"
बीमारों और मृतकों की भी इतनी भीड़ पहली बार देखी है।#rallies
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 18, 2021
The remark, which appeared to be a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi praising the size of crowds at his rallies, was an ironical one. The Congress leader's acerbic condemnation of BJP leaders holding rallies could be said to be uncalled for, as he himself had addressed two rallies in West Bengal only four days earlier.
It is also arguable that Rahul's announcement was little more than political point-scoring, considering that Congress is hardly a contender in West Bengal in any case.
Nevertheless, any attempt to rise above political differences in the current circumstances, even if it for the sake of optics, should be welcome. The Centre would do well to respond to the Congress' moves in the spirit of co-operation, and avoid unwarranted confrontational politics.
With inputs from PTI
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