Updated: May 2, 2021 8:03:23 am
The Centre “ignored” “multiple early warning signs” that a second wave of Covid-19 could hit India hard and “declared victory” against the pandemic “prematurely”, leading to the present situation, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Saturday.
Having done that, the government is now “missing in action” Rahul said.
“There were multiple early warning signs. Forget the signs, scientists clearly warned the government this would happen…they (government) ignored them,” Rahul told PTI in an interview. “We could and should have been much better prepared. And now, where is the government in this crisis? It is completely missing in action. They are obsessed only with saving the Prime Minister’s image and blaming others.”
“The new buzzword is that the system has failed. Who is this ‘system’? Who runs the ‘system’? It’s just a ploy to avoid admitting responsibility,” he said.
The Congress leader said Prime Minister Narendra Modi is “absolutely” at fault, as he runs a highly centralised and personalised government machinery that is “solely and substantially devoted to building his own brand, is utterly focused on imagery rather than substance”.
He said: “The fact is that this government completely failed to understand or to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic — right from the beginning, despite repeated warnings…. The PM had an entire year to better prepare, protect India, and think through this crisis, but what did they do? Did the PM and the government add sufficient oxygen capacity, ramp up testing, increase hospital beds, ventilators?”
He asked, “Did the PM think long-term about the state of our health infrastructure and start building for the sort of subsequent corona waves that almost every country was experiencing?”
“It was sheer luck that we emerged out of last year’s nightmare, to a point where we had less than 10,000 new cases in a day early in 2021,” Rahul said. “We were not testing enough then. We are not testing enough now. Where was the preparation for this massive second wave? Why were the jumbo facilities put up last year dismantled? Why did they raise oxygen exports over 700% — think of that number, 700% — in the months before this brutal second wave?”
Rahul alleged that the government was both grossly negligent and blindly overconfident. “The BJP announced the end of the pandemic and congratulated the Prime Minister for his success even as the second wave was just beginning. The Prime Minister himself is on record as having said that India had successfully fought the pandemic and won. In reality, there was no coherent strategy.”
“No one will come to help you — definitely not the Prime Minister. The need of the hour is to hold hands, work together and heal our people,” he said.
On what the government should, and should not have, done, the Congress leader said, “One, the government should have built massive capacity over the last year — testing, oxygen, hospital beds, ventilators. Two, they should not have declared victory prematurely. Three, the Prime Minister and his government did not even acknowledge there was a problem. How can you fix something you don’t even accept exists? Four, the government did not act on scientific advice or evidence.”
He said that the government “continuously ignored rising cases” and was “busy instead with election campaigns. They encouraged super-spreader events — even bragged about them.”
Referring to the vaccine shortage, he said it was nothing but failure to plan and execute. “The biggest problem of this government is it announces and then absconds. Now that the situation is completely out of control, they have dropped the ball and thrown it to the states. They have made the states and citizens truly ‘aatma-nirbhar’ – rely on yourself is the motto. No one will come to help you; definitely not the Prime Minister. The need of the hour is to hold hands, work together and heal our people,” he said.
Rahul said India must be the only country without the guidance of an expert and empowered group that is charged with fighting the virus and protecting the people, with planning ahead, anticipating needs and taking decisions that will result in swift action to save lives.
He said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asked for compulsory licensing, as did Congress president Sonia Gandhi. “Other countries have done this,” he pointed out. “The US ramped up its vaccine production using their Defense Production Act. We have to do whatever it takes, within our laws, to ramp up domestic production of vaccines. We have a domestic manufacturing base. We can manufacture for both India and the world. All the industry needs are licenses and raw materials. It should have been done months ago.”
Asked whether he is ready to lead the party again in such times, Rahul said he had always favoured internal organisational elections in the Congress and these will be conducted in time. “I will do whatever the party wants me to do. But right now the focus is on controlling the pandemic, saving lives, and alleviating India’s widespread suffering and pain. There will be time for everything else in due course,” he said.
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