Bengal’s poor Centre-state relations have taken a turn for the worse with CBI arresting two senior ministers in CM Banerjee’s cabinet in the Narada bribery case. With Mamata landing at CBI’s office and dramatically proclaiming “Arrest me also,” the TMC crowds pouring in have unsettled Bengal’s complete lockdown announced on Sunday. Hopes of the state government finally training its energies on the Covid pandemic after a long and zealous election battle, must await this latest flashpoint subsiding. TMC, meanwhile, is questioning why Mamata’s bete noir Suvendu Adhikari, prominently featured in the Narada sting tape, hasn’t been arrested.
For its part CBI is still living down to its “caged parrot” tag. The years-old Narada case really could have waited until Bengal’s Covid situation was less fraught. Its worrying test positivity rate of 29.7% is eclipsed only by Karnataka among the big states. Bengal is doing less than 700 daily tests per million population, far lower than Bihar at 984 and UP at 1,147. Vaccination rates are also low. Central and state governments need to be working together by pooling resources for treatment, testing and vaccination. But instead, the campaign against Covid continues to take a backseat to hyper-polarised politics.
Having invoked the Disaster Management Act to chaperone state government responses, Centre must ensure minimal distractions from single-minded focus on combating the deadly second wave. Quite to the contrary, another “arrest me too” clamour has arisen in Delhi following police crackdown on posters criticising PM Modi. From vaccines to oxygen there are countless points of view across India. They seek to amplify themselves through different forms of communication. In this play of multiple narratives, government’s most effective means of wooing the citizenry is through effective work.
The ordinary cop has actually served at the frontlines of the anti-Covid fight without a break since early April – at crematoriums, helping people to hospitals and so on. It is a failure of leadership and imagination when these hardworking public servants are burdened with coercive tasks that are counterproductive amid a grave public health crisis. Public anger is a legitimate expression of the trauma being experienced by citizens. They await the public health crisis, economic slump, and the potential third wave getting the priority these deserve. In Bengal this change has now become much unlikelier. With the spotlight having shifted to politics once again, many citizens’ battle with Covid just got lonelier.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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