Highlights vaccine shortage caused by exports, calls for responsible behaviour as Opposition
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in a virtual meeting with Chief Ministers of Congress-ruled States on Saturday, charged the Narendra Modi government of “mismanaging” the COVID-19 situation by allowing exports of vaccines that has resulted in a vaccine shortage in the country.
Stating that mass gatherings for elections and religious events had accelerated the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, Ms. Gandhi called for cancellation of public events. She also said priority should be given to “test, track and vaccinate”.
The Congress chief also took stock of the on-going farmers’ protests against the new farm laws, and of approval not being given by the President of India for State laws that negated the Central farm laws.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel were among those who participated in the meeting. Senior Congress Minister in the Maharashtra government Balashaeb Thorat, and Rameshwar Oraon of the Jharkhand government also participated in the meet.
Chief Ministers of Congress-ruled States expressed concern over vaccine shortage with Mr. Baghel claiming that Chhattisgarh had stock to last for only three days. Punjab’s Captain Amarinder Singh said that while the State had stocks to last five days at current levels of vaccination, if it scaled up the vaccination target to 2 lakh shots a day, Punjab, too, would have vaccine stock for only three days.
Mr. Singh also claimed that the “anger” against the Centre over the farm laws had impacted the State’s COVID-19 vaccination drive.
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot said the shortage of vaccines was a reality that could not be wished away and asserted that “the Centre must take States on board as stakeholders and not as adversaries”.
The meeting also comes ahead of the Prime Minister’s call for tika utsav between April 11 and 14 to scale up the pace of vaccination.
Expressing concern over the second wave of COVID-19 hitting the country, Mr. Rahul Gandhi called for the joining of energies instead of complacency and premature victories against the new mutant of the virus.
Mr. Gandhi also claimed that there was a connection between the spread of infection and nutrition and livelihood. He said the virus attacked the poorest and disadvantaged the hardest, and reiterated the demand for “basic income support” from the Central government.
“The Modi government has mismanaged the situation — exported vaccine and allowed a shortage to be created in India. Mass gatherings for elections and religious events have accelerated COVID for which all of us are responsible to some extent. We need to accept this responsibility and keep the interest of the nation above our own,” Ms. Gandhi told her party colleagues in her introductory remarks.
“As the principal Opposition party, it’s our responsibility to raise issues and push the government to move away from PR tactics and act in the interest of the people,” she added.
The Congress chief said cooperation with the States showed respect to federalism and it was equally important for States to be constructive and cooperate with the Centre in its efforts to fight the pandemic. “We are all united in this fight,” she said.
Chief spokesperson of the party Randeep Surjewala said Ms. Gandhi had also reviewed the availability of vaccines, oxygen, hospital beds, access to medicines and ventilators in the Congress-ruled States.
“We must focus on India’s vaccination drive first and foremost, then only export vaccines and gift them to other countries. We must stress on responsible behaviour — adhering to all laws and COVID regulations without an exception,” she said.
Ms. Gandhi also asked for the views of her colleagues on lockdown, the effectiveness of the Centre’s fiscal stimulus on businesses, and the impact of the second wave on the economy.