Since 15 April, India has been grappling with an exponential rise in COVID cases, deaths and shortage of basic facilities. In the wake of the unprecedented crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been facing blistering criticism for the government’s handling of the pandemic, both, internationally and within the country.
India’s former foreign minister and ex-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Yashwant Sinha told Sputnik that despite warnings from various international agencies, the Narendra Modi government has failed miserably in handling the current COVID-19 situation. He also explained how the BJP used the Election Commission of India (ECI) as “its puppet” in the recently held state assembly elections. Sinha left the BJP after he reached ideological dissent within his party in 2018 and recently joined Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).
Sputnik: How do you assess the work of the Narendra Modi government in handling the current COVID-19 situation?
Yashwant Sinha: The problem with the Narendra Modi government is that it starts celebrating and taking credit too early. In January, while addressing the World Economic Forum, Narendra Modi declared that India saved the world by controlling COVID in the country, and the party office bearers gathered on February 21 to congratulate PM Modi for the victory over the deadly virus.
All this time, experts were warning that the second wave of COVID-19 is expected to hit the nation soon. All the warnings fell on deaf ears of the BJP government. This is the major reason why we are grappling with the worst worldwide COVID-19 surge and today, we are breaking all the records of daily infections and deaths.
The entire health infrastructure has collapsed. A country like India cannot put together enough oxygen for the patients, and the whole situation is in a mess. Now, who will take the blame for this? The federal government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who failed to anticipate the danger despite regular warnings and failed to manage the situation, is directly responsible for this.
Sputnik: How did the government handle the country’s economy during the pandemic?
Yashwant Sinha: I really don’t think that the economy of the country is in a good shape. The Narendra Modi-led government is extremely good at manipulating the data; therefore, I don’t trust the statistics shown by the government anymore. A lot of people, holding important portfolios, had to resign because they didn’t agree with the government or its reports.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced relief packages of $278 billion (INR 20 lakh crore rupees) for the aftermath of the COVID crisis. Where is the money? Various reports said that the announcements by the government were eyewash and it had hardly spent 1-2 percent of the said amount.
This money was specially allocated for the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector and the MSME figures are released with three years lag — therefore, we don’t have a bigger picture. Despite the allocation of relief package for the MSME sector, it is in very bad shape. So, I don’t think that the economic situation has been handled in the desired way.
Sputnik: How did the government tackle the crisis of migrant labourers and the unorganized sector?
Yashwant Sinha: If things were managed in a better way, then migrants would have never walked back to their respective states during the second wave of the COVID-19. The small business units are shutting down and unemployment has become one of the major issues. The government failed to serve the interest of the country, particularly the unorganized sector and the worst part is that still, it is not thinking about it.
Sputnik: Most of the states are complaining about non-availability of vaccine doses. How do you see the entire vaccination process in the country?
Yashwant Sinha: Vaccination should be made free and compulsory, like primary education, as it is the only protection we have against the deadly virus. We have to vaccinate all our countrymen as soon as possible.
Secondly, online registration should not be the only way to get registered for the vaccination. On the spot, registrations should also be started. Currently, I’m in my village in Jharkhand (It is one of the tribal states of India) and here people are not much aware about online registration. So, for such a populace, the government should mobilise the healthcare and frontline workers, who can go village to village and vaccinate the people on the spot.
Apart from this, we must not laud ourselves as a world leader in the pharmacy sector and export the vaccine to other countries. First, we should ensure vaccination for our population and then we can look forward to supporting other countries.
Also, it is important that the cost of the vaccination should be taken care of by the government. I think there won’t be much of a problem with it as the Finance Minister had announced a $1.7 billion health package to fight against COVID-19 and a huge amount of money had been collected in the PM-CARES fund.
However, I will still say that the government, so far, has performed miserably in managing this crisis.
Sputnik: How was your experience of the West Bengal elections as this was the first time that the BJP had a magnanimous campaign in the state?
Yashwant Sinha: I am really disappointed with the way the elections were conducted in West Bengal. The Election Commission of India didn’t act as an independent agency. It was working on the directions of the federal government. Knowing about the pandemic spread, the poll body shouldn’t have extended the polls in the state.
A supporter of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wearing a face cutout of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a public rally being addressed by him during the ongoing fourth phase of the West Bengal’s state legislative assembly elections, at Kawakhali on the outskirts of Siliguri on April 10, 2021.
Breaking all the COVID protocols, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah organized huge rallies where people from various parts of the country were brought adding to the COVID-19 surge.
Additionally, Narendra Modi behaved like a street urchin during the poll campaigns. He taunted Mamta Banerjee as ‘Didi, O Didi’ (Sister, Hey Sister) or Do May, Didi Gayi (2 May, Banerjee gone). Such language is not expected from the Prime Minister of a country.
Modi-Shah duo has always tried to sideline their rivals, whether within the party or outside, similarly they realised that Mamata Banerjee would be a threat for them in 2024 so they only made plans for defeating her, though they couldn’t succeed, and didn’t focus on Pinarayi Vijayan (of Kerala), MK Stalin (of Tamil Nadu).
Sputnik: You’ve been reiterating that the West Bengal election will shape up the 2024 Parliamentarian Election in India. How?
Mr Sinha: At present, there is no opposition against the federal government, and nature doesn’t tolerate the vacuum for long. Similarly, the political vacuum has to be filled. By 2024, more ably and small leaders will emerge and challenge Narendra Modi.
I don’t know who will be these leaders, but Mamata Banerjee is undoubtedly one of those faces.