Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interaction with chief ministers, the Congress on Thursday said a lockdown of “the present nature” was unsustainable and cannot continue. Asking the government to come out with a “detailed exit strategy” in the 10 days left for this phase of the lockdown to end on May 3, the main opposition party accused it of not taking any concrete steps to revive the economy.
The party’s stance, formulated at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), is expected to be articulated by its chief ministers during their interaction with the PM on Monday. With the Centre sending teams to several Opposition-ruled states, apart from Madhya Pradesh, to check alleged violations of lockdown norms, the Congress also urged that states be allowed to devise their own plans and argued against a “one-size-fits-all policy”.
Many leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, stressed at the CWC that the government must allow economic activities to resume in non-hot stop zones. Chief Ministers Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Amarinder Singh (Punjab), Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) and V Narayanasamy (Puducherry) pointed out the financial distress being faced by states and the shortage of testing kits.
In a statement, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said any extension of the kind of lockdown in place now would be “even more devastating”. “The lockdown continues. all sections of our society continue to face acute hardship and distress — particularly our farmers, farm workers, migrant and construction workers. Trade, commerce and industry have come to a virtual halt and crores of livelihoods destroyed.”
Former PM Manmohan Singh said the success of the lockdown will be judged finally on the ability to tackle the epidemic, and that cooperation between the Centre and states was key.
Rahul said it was time to think of transition from a complete lockdown to lockdown only in hot zones and commencement of activities in green zones.
The resolution adopted by the CWC said states must be empowered to “devise solutions tailored to their unique situations and challenges” and argued that “the fight must be bottom-up instead of the top-down, one-size-fits-all policy currently on display”.
The resolution also asked why the Economic Task Force announced by the PM a month ago does not appear to have come out with a plan yet. It asked the government to utilise the remaining lockdown period for “preparation and publication of a detailed exit strategy and a comprehensive road map for the future to substantially increase health infrastructure capacity to deal with the pandemic and to revive the economy and protect current levels of employment and wages/income”.
The CWC also reiterated many of the demands made earlier — like giving states adequate financial support, releasing their full share of the GST collected so far, allowing them greater fiscal space to borrow, providing direct cash transfer and food grains to the poor, complete moratorium on agricultural and other loans for at least one year along with complete interest subvention and a sector-specific package for MSMEs.
The party asked the government to frame a policy to ensure return of migrant workers to their home states and the Indians stranded abroad, while taking adequate precautions. Baghel, among others, raised this issue. Rahul said the government should accord first priority to this, while P Chidambaram called for a humane policy keeping the migrants in mind.
The Congress felt that India was lagging in establishing a robust and accurate testing regime.
The party resolution as well as Sonia’s statement also accused the BJP of spreading “the virus of communal prejudice and hatred” and “seeking to inflame communal divisions”, using the pandemic.
Sources said the Congress leadership is worried over the political fallout of the attempts at communal polarisation — be it over the Palghar lynchings or the Tablighi Jamaat links to many of the coronavirus cases.
Many leaders, both young and old, expressed dismay to The Indian Express over the CWC’s inability to come out with a “credible political line” to counter the BJP and felt the party should resume normal political activity. Some of the leaders felt the Congress should focus on the plight of migrant workers as a counter to the communal propaganda.