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In BJP rank and file, a worry: ‘Phone calls pour in for bed, cylinder… can do little’

Over the last few days, many BJP leaders — including MPs and party office-bearers in several states — told The Indian Express they have been inundated with calls for help from families, friends and their constituencies but they can do little.

Written by Ravish Tiwari | New Delhi |
Updated: April 22, 2021 11:48:14 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Having taken credit for “victory” over the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, both the BJP and the Centre are scrambling to respond politically to the fierce second wave that’s hit the country like a “toofan,” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it Tuesday.

The wave has touched more homes than ever, the daily death count has hit a record high and hapless families struggle to find a bed or an oxygen cylinder. The fact that all this is one full year after the pandemic and after almost four months of calm has accentuated public anguish.

For the party, too, it has hit home. Over the last few days, many BJP leaders — including MPs and party office-bearers in several states — told The Indian Express they have been inundated with calls for help from families, friends and their constituencies but they can do little.

“These days, I worry whenever the phone rings. Only God knows what request will come, for a hospital bed, for Remdesivir, for oxygen or to arrange for a quick test — such calls are pouring in and it’s very difficult to meet these requests,” said a top BJP office-bearer in a state ruled by the party.

He has a deep and extensive network in the state administration but he admits that the pandemic has exposed critical gaps in infrastructure that can’t be just “politically addressed.” “Even money or political contacts can’t help, that’s why families are much more impatient and angry,” he said.

“Last time, it was mainly requests for food or transport for migrants or the poor which was easier to attend to than demands for a bed, oxygen and Remdesivir,” said the BJP chief of another party-ruled state.

“There is panic and anxiety all around. We are not able to attend to the requests of our cadres…there are cases where our workers or their loved ones have died because we could not address their requests on time. The situation is very precarious,” he said.

Party leaders said they are keeping their fingers crossed and pinning their hopes on that there will be some respite “in the coming days.”

Until then, the wait. “Sankat bada hai, jhelna toh padega. Sankat bada hai aur apekshayein bhi badi hain. (the crisis is deep, it needs to be tackled; there are high expectations, too). There is widespread anxiety at the moment,” said a senior RSS functionary citing examples of how their cadres are hit in the field.

The BJP may have accused Opposition-ruled states of passing the buck to the Centre by making appeals for oxygen and medicine but even BJP CMs are feeling the heat.

Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan had to tweet on how neighbouring state officials were holding back oxygen trucks meant for his state. Sources said a neighbouring BJP-ruled state was also part of his lament. Sources said Chouhan had to speak to a state CM to get oxygen trucks released for Madhya Pradesh.

Most party leaders are looking at the Central leadership to take their cue on how to move ahead and address the “dampened” public mood. “Lagta hai Bhagwan ne sun li meri awaaz,” (Seems God heard my prayers) said a state BJP chief moments after the PM tweeted his plan to address the nation Tuesday.

Speaking earlier in the day, the state unit chief had suggested the need for Modi to speak to the public directly to counter the growing despondency.

“We have an army of political workers who can provide muscle support. But we can’t meet requests of oxygen, beds, and drugs. This is causing anxiety all around,” said the BJP state chief suggesting that assurances need to come from Modi himself.

A senior RSS leader hoped that the fact the PM had spoken to the nation and had assured improvement signalled that “he must have ensured that the spadework has been done. That the situation on oxygen and medicines will improve in the coming days.”

“The situation is grim but Opposition-ruled states like Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Punjab or Delhi are not doing any better than BJP-ruled states so I am not sure what political advantage they can reap,” said the RSS functionary. He, however, admitted that images of massive election rally crowds in West Bengal at a time of rising deaths had, indeed, rattled many across the country.

A senior party functionary in the central team of the BJP, who is currently deputed to manage election work in West Bengal, admitted there was “rising anxiety” among people over the current surge. He said many party leaders had rushed to their constituencies to address “requirements arising out of the current wave.” That’s why, he said, some party state units and youth wings have set up helplines.

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