While pledging to continue its “unstinted support” to the government, the Congress on Thursday strongly criticised the Narendra Modi administration’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Congress Working Committee (CWC) said the government’s strategy of limited testing was “flawed”, its financial action plan “hopelessly inadequate” and claimed that it went in for the 21-day lockdown “unplanned”.
The CWC, which met for the first time through video conferencing, said supply chains to crores of people have been severely disrupted due to “poor preparation” and “thoughtless orders”. It argued that the “tragic spectacle” of thousands of migrant workers “desperately trying to go back to their villages” will “forever remain” a “blot” on this government.
The Congress asked the government to go for extensive testing, announce a second financial action plan for the poor, restore supply chains, take preparatory steps to deal with the economy to ensure that current levels of employment and wages are maintained and business failures of MSMEs are averted, announce a cut in GST rates on goods of mass consumption and make preparations for immediate harvesting and procurement of crops at minimum support price.
The Congress asked the government to earmark Rs 5-6 lakh crore and appoint an Economic Task Force comprising renowned economists to suggest an emergency plan within one week, a short to medium-term plan within one month and a medium to long-term plan within three months to protect and revive the economy.
In her speech, Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked the government to prepare and publish a Common Minimum Relief Programme, arguing that it will help alleviate several concerns currently afflicting people.
Sources said the CWC meeting saw some members arguing that the party should desist from criticising the government at this juncture and some like P Chidambaram favoured a nuanced approach of supporting it while pointing out the shortcomings. It is learnt that former party chief Rahul Gandhi told the meeting that he saw no reason why the Congress should not criticise the government. The CWC resolution, released after the four-hour meeting, was fairly critical of the government.
Rahul is also learnt to have said that the 21-day lockdown is not sufficient to serve the intended objective. According to sources, he said that international experts have told him that the shutdown, if it has to be effective, should be more than twice the incubation period.
Sources said Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh did not rule out the possibility of COVID-19 cases in his state touching 30,000 in the coming months. All the chief ministers from the party said their governments are facing a severe resource crunch because of the shutdown.
“The fight against coronavirus must be unitedly fought by central and state governments. Majority of the state governments have complained of inadequate financial resources in absence of central government not releasing state’s share in the GST,” the CWC resolution said.
The Congress said the government has erred in adopting a strategy of limited testing and demanded its reversal. It asked the government to expand medical infrastructure – like isolation wards, hospital beds, testing labs, and quarantine facilities — on a war footing.
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