BJP dials up propaganda on Gujarat govt's behalf as Covid crisis continues

Topics Coronavirus | Gujarat | Lockdown

The Covid-19 crisis is likely to be a major issue in the municipal and zilla panchayat elections, which are scheduled to be held between October and December. As of Saturday, the state had reported 15,934 cases and 980 deaths | Photo: PTI
If the death and devastation caused by Covid-19 in Gujarat — ranking fourth, after Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi, in the number of cases but way ahead of the latter two in fatalities (on the last count, 980 to Delhi's 398 and Tamil Nadu’s 154) — are ineluctable realities, as striking is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s instinct and ability to persist with its politics.

It’s a matter-of-course for the pandemic and politics to co-exist, because there’s an election on the horizon. Indeed, the municipal and zilla panchayat elections are scheduled to be held between October and December this year. “The outcome will be a referendum on the way our government handled the Covid-19 pandemic,” a Gujarat BJP office-bearer said.

“The administration should stop disseminating the figures of the dead and focus on the recoveries to lift people’s morale. Our party machinery should dial up propaganda on the good work that the government and the BJP are carrying on. We have distributed close to 200,000 medical kits. If our each booth pramukh (chief) publicises this fact, he will have covered 300 households and that translates into 1,000 voters. That should be the BJP’s goal,” stated a south Gujarat MP. The MP brushed aside the social and economic upheaval that shook cities like 

Surat after the painful exodus of migrants who powered diamond and textile trades as a “temporary setback”.
“Before long, those who left will return because they have little or no land to fall back on in their villages. The MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) brings only Rs 3,000 for 15 days compared to Rs 20,000 per month they earn in Gujarat,” the MP claimed.

A senior Gujarat leader admitted: “We have to reflect on why a resource and cash-rich state like ours faces this health crisis. Administrative incompetence? I can’t say but something has gone seriously wrong.”

According to observers, the pandemic highlighted the flaws in the official policy that for years overlooked the health sector and encouraged private players to the detriment of the state medical infrastructure. “This happened for over 20 years. Health and education were accorded no priority. There was hardly any recruitment of doctors and paramedics. In terms of vacancies (in the medical sector), Gujarat is among the top states. New hospitals that came up were owned by private businesspeople, largely from the Patel community. Doctors and pharmacists are also Patels. This is not the time to speak of caste conflicts. But I can’t help feeling that the BJP government’s management of the Patels’ demand for reservation and the ensuing violence impacted the community at all levels. Private hospitals didn’t cooperate with the government. It had to fall back on its own medical resources that were woefully inadequate,” explained an observer. 

A Saurashtra BJP MP conceded that private hospitals “failed” to rise to the challenge. “They treated the lockdown like a holiday. They got into the act when the Delhi brass directed them to help,” said the MP. Even after that, private hospitals, whose services were requisitioned under the Epidemic Diseases Act, got into a spat with the civic authorities over the rates prescribed by the state for treating patients. The Gujarat government also mandated that private labs had to seek its approval before going ahead with testing, a rule that decelerated the critical process of identifying the infected.   

The MP’s admission about Delhi’s intervention, inadvertently or otherwise, focussed attention on another trend. An insider said: “We are upset with the chief minister (Vijay Rupani) for his ineptitude to work the system.” Rupani — who succeeded Anandiben Patel in August 2016 — is perceived as the hand-picked nominee of Delhi, and of Amit Shah, the home minister. “We are not sure of how much leeway he is given,” the insider conceded.    


So even as the transfer of Vijay Nehra, Ahmedabad municipal commissioner, was seen as the “first decisive” step Rupani took, the overall sense of the Gujarat BJP was in this skewed delegation of power — it was Kuniyil Kailashnathan who exercised a veto. Kailashnathan, who was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chief principal secretary (when Modi was the chief minister), continues to be in Rupani’s CMO after superannuation. “He is the main link between the political leadership and the bureaucracy, between Delhi and Gandhinagar,” a source said.

The other angle in the grey zone of the power hierarchy is Nitin Patel, deputy chief minister, who holds the health and finance portfolios. It is common knowledge in Gujarat that Patel, who has been a senior minister for 20 years, is sulking since he was overlooked for the CM’s post. “We get a feeling that Patel is indifferent to what’s happening because of his reported differences with the CM,” a BJP source said.

Meanwhile, the Gujarat BJP dutifully organises weekly audio and video conferences addressed by the state party president, Jitu Vaghani, and the general secretary (organisation), Bhikunhai Dalsaniya, for workers at all levels.

“The idea is to get feedback from the cadre, as well as monitor and assess how active party workers are on the ground,” the Saurashtra MP said. Can the party organisation be a substitute or effectively complement the government?

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel