Addressing a meeting of 22 opposition parties to discuss the situation arising out of Covid-19 pandemic, Congress president Sonia Gandhi came down heavily on the government and accused it of functioning unilaterally.
“The government has abandoned any pretence of being democratic and all power is now concentrated in only one office — the PMO,” Gandhi said in the meeting held via video-conferencing.
Stating that “the spirit of federalism, which is an integral part of our Constitution, is all but forgotten”, Gandhi said there is no indication either as regards whether Parliament or its standing committees will be summoned to meet to discuss the situation.
The Congress chief also said that the government has “cruelly ignored” scores of migrant workers and the 13 crore families in the bottom half of the population as no financial relief has been provided to them. “The prime minister’s announcement of a grand Rs 20 lakh crore package on May 12 and the finance minister spelling out its details over the next five days have turned out to be a cruel joke on the country,” she said.
Many like-minded parties, she said, had demanded transfer of cash to the poor and free distribution of foodgrains to all, besides arranging buses and trains for migrant workers to go back to their homes. “But our pleas have fallen on deaf ears,” she said.
She also underlined that it is the duty of the opposition to offer constructive criticism and suggestions. “It is in that spirit that this meeting has been convened,” she said, requesting the opposition leaders to come forth with their considered views.
Joint statement by opposition parties:
Union Govt has failed in discharging its responsibilities in a timely, effective and sensitive manner. Grand announcements have been made but they do nothing meaningful to alleviate the sufferings of people. @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/MVzxcZboST
— Manoj C G (@manojcg4u) May 22, 2020
Gandhi pointed out that a number of renowned economists have predicted that 2020-21 will end with a negative growth of up to minus 5 per cent for the country and its “consequences will be catastrophic”.
“That the present government has no solutions is worrying, but that it has no empathy or compassion for the poor and vulnerable is heartbreaking,” she noted.
She also alleged that the government has embarked on a “wild adventure” of so-called reforms, including “a grand clearance sale of PSUs” and repeal of labour laws. “We deplore these unilateral moves,” she said.
The Congress chief said the initial optimism of the prime minister that the war against the coronavirus would conclude in 21 days has turned out to be misplaced and it seems that the virus is here to stay until a vaccine is found. “I am also of the view that the government is uncertain about the criteria for lockdowns, nor does it have an exit strategy. The successive lockdowns have yielded diminishing returns. The government also stumbled badly on the testing strategy and import of test kits.
“Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to take its toll. The economy has been gravely crippled. Every economist of repute had pointed towards an immediate need for a massive fiscal stimulus,” she said.
Following the meeting, the opposition parties, in a joint statement, put forth 11-point demand charter before the central government.
- Direct cash transfer of Rs 7,500 per month to all families, outside the income tax bracket, for six months.
- Free distribution of 10 kg food grains to all needy individuals, each month for the next six months. Increase the number of MGNREGA work days to 200.
- Free transportation for all migrant workers to their native places.
- Provide accurate and relevant information on Covid-19 infections and goalposts vis-a-vis testing, infrastructure and containing spread.
- Reverse all unilateral policy decisions particularly the annulment of labour laws.
- Procure immediately the rabi harvest at the MSP and provide assistance for the produce to reach the market.
- Release substantial funds to the state governments who are in the frontline of combating the pandemic
- Communicate in clear terms, the central government’s exit strategy from the lockdown, if any.
- Restore Parliamentary functioning and oversight with immediate effect.
- Present a clear and meaningful economic strategy focused on revival and poverty alleviation instead of propaganda.
- Consult state governments while allowing international/domestic flights
The leaders of 22 opposition parties, including West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Jharkhand Chief Minister and JMM leader Hemant Soren, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, DMK leader M K Stalin and JD(S) leader HD Deve Gowda, besides CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury and CPI’s D Raja participated in the meeting.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Mallikarjun Kharge were also present.
Leaders of some other regional parties such as Sharad Yadav (LJD), Omar Abdullah (NC), Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), Jitan Ram Manjhi (HAM), Upendra Kushwaha (RLSP), Jose K Mani (KC-M), Badruddin Ajmal (AIUDF), Jayant Chaudhary (RLD) and Raju Shetty (Swabhimani Paksha) also participated.
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