AAP, BJP trade barbs over governance, toll figures as pandemic spreads

Amid all these claims and rebuttals, what remains a fact that the government has its work cut out
Delhi’s Covid-management infrastructure has started showing signs of fatigue. Cases continue to rise at an alarming rate, even as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government looks to balance containment strategies with more relaxations after May 31.

So far, the story of the national capital is similar to most states, especially the worst-affected ones. However, over the past fortnight or so, it had to contend with an aggressive political opposition, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has intensified its attacks on the Arvind Kejriwal-led government. The Opposition party claimed the AAP government failed on various counts and accused it of under-reporting of the death figure.  

While the odd Twitter exchanges were on, it was widely believed that Kejriwal was relying on the strategy of avoiding confrontation that served him well in the Assembly elections; some even speculated that he has had a deal with the Centre. For its part, the BJP’s local unit was also reeling from the impact of a humbling defeat at the hands of the AAP.

The Covid-19 crisis, however, has provided the BJP with an opportunity to strike the ruling party where it hurts the most: Its governance record.
Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said: “The elections are away but perception makes some difference. The votes that the AAP gets here don’t come from loyal supporters but those who reward it for performance. When the government is not able to perform and you keep attacking the government, they may take a negative view.”

The controversy over the death toll erupted earlier this month. BJP leaders from the three municipal corporations have upped the ante ever since, attributing the difference (between reported and purported numbers) to cremations or burials according to the standard protocol in their respective areas.

“The number of death is something we have been vocal about for some time now, but of late, we have also seen a major jump in Covid-19 cases being reported every day. The other fallout has been that private hospitals are looting patients charging anywhere between Rs 5 to Rs 15 lakh. Someone has to take responsibility for this and we have taken it upon ourselves to alert the government, so that it doesn’t repeat its mistakes,” Delhi BJP President Manoj Tiwari told Business Standard.

Tiwari has been vocal about lack of hospital beds in the past few days. “Similarly, when the government said that it has 30,000 beds, it counted private beds as its own. Now for patients who have large families and smaller houses, home quarantining is not a workable solution and the government needs to ensure an adequate number of beds,” he said.
Jasmine Shah, AAP spokesman and Delhi Dialogue Commission vice-chairman, dismissed most of these allegations and accused the BJP of playing politics. He cited a recent Delhi High Court order refusing to scrap the Death Audit Committee (DAC) constituted by the Delhi government as a vindication of the government’s stance that there was no fabrication of data.

“There was a procedural delay in sending death summary... All hospitals were told that they have to mandatorily submit the previous day's death summary by 5 pm next day,” said Shah.

The standing committee chairman of North MCD, Jai Prakash, who earlier had claimed that 282 people were cremated or buried in accordance with the Covid-19 protocol in his area, said the corporations will continue to raise the matter as the court hearing (on a PIL seeking the scrapping of the DAC) did not involve the corporations as a party. “Every day, we are getting reports of more and more bodies coming to crematoriums and burial grounds; someone has to explain the mismatch.”

BJP leaders are also said to be upset about the fact that the foodgrain distribution under the Pradhanmantri Garib Kalyan Yojana to non-ration cardholders is being done from the state-run PDF shops, which denies them the opportunity to claim credit for a central scheme. “Now imagine a beneficiary collecting the ration from a shop where he sees the picture of the chief minister, what will he think. We also believe that the disbursal is not happening properly,” said another leader.

Amid all these claims and rebuttals, what remains a fact that the government has its work cut out. The rising numbers and a major spike in May is an uncontested claim.

On Friday, it came out with a full-page newspaper advertisement that highlighted how “more than 80 per cent coronavirus-positive patients can recover easily at home”, thus signalling a change in the hospitalisation strategy. 

Also on Friday, the Delhi High Court took suo moto notice of the matter related to the cremation of bodies of Covid-19 patients based on a news report that brought to light the lack of facilities for the cremation of bodies at cremation grounds. The BJP was quick to lap it up, launching a fresh attack on 
the government.

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