Amid the measures being taken to enforce the lockdown, ensure supplies and maintain order in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic, the opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh have reacted in different manners to the government measures and offering their suggestions in whatever manner. While the crisis has allowed political parties to make their presence felt and improve their image at the same time, it is evident that there would be, after all, politics at the end of it all.
While the Congress reaction has been in the manner of letters written by the party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav has opted for promoting a scheme launched during his regime and putting his workers out in the field. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, on her part, has supported the measures and asked her party leaders to cooperate.
But most notably, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has chosen to react and welcome only the BSP’s gesture, going to the extent of thanking Mayawati.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra took to writing letters ever since the crisis unfolded. She wrote the first letter on March 24 to party office bearers in districts and cities of UP, urging them to extend all possible help to the people. She asked them to write above party interest and help in enforcing the lockdown. Her next letter was on March 27 written to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in which she offered her party’s support in the fight against the virus. She also told him that teams and helpline of Congress workers and volunteers were formed in all districts, and they were ready to help the administration wherever required.
The third letter from her was written on March 29 to CEOs of telecom companies in India, urging them to make all incoming and outgoing calls on their networks free for one month in view of the corona crisis. She wrote similar letters to Mukesh Ambani of Jio Telecom, Kumar Mangalam Birla of Vodafone-Idea, PK Purwar of BSNL and Sunil Bharti Mittal of Airtel.
The latest letter from her came on Friday 10 April, in which she urged Yogi Adityanath to increase the coronavirus testing and treatment facilities in the state. She also demanded action to stop rumours and misconceptions related to the coronavirus spread in the state and asked for immediate distribution of masks and sanitizers in the state. Incidentally, she quoted the example of rigorous lockdown and curfew in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara as an example where, she wrote, “within 9 days, more than 24 lakh people were screened and a maximum number of tests was done and the infected people were identified. The population of our Uttar Pradesh is around 23 crores while the number of samples taken for testing is only around 7,000, which is quite less. It is necessary to speed up the testing. For a state with a large population like Uttar Pradesh, increasing the number of tests can prove to be a panacea.”
The Samajwadi Party president and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, on the other hand, has maintained a critical approach from the beginning. In initial days, his party leaders had made light of the coronavirus, terming the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) “more dangerous” than the virus. It was only after the severity of the pandemic led to the lockdown that his party realised the seriousness of the situation and has since then been critical of the state government’s efforts.
On March 26, Akhilesh Yadav demanded that the state government must give away “Samajwadi relief packets” to the poor and suggested that the present government could change the scheme’s name “in whatever name you wish.” The “Samajwadi relief package” was a scheme launched in Yadav’s regime to distribute food packets to people in drought-hit Bundelkhand region. The packages comprised 10 kg flour, 5 kg rice, 5 kg pulse, 25 kg potatoes, 5-litre mustard oil, 1 kg desi ghee and 1 kg milk powder.
Yadav also suggested that the government “should not waste time in holding review meetings.” A few days later, Samajwadi Party workers and volunteers, on Yadav’s directives, had started distributing relief material to people affected by the lockdown in some districts. Yadav had said that if the government was willing to put aside political differences in these difficult times, his party workers could lend a helping hand using cycles to distribute food to the villages.
Interestingly, while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati had tweeted her support to the lockdown and had appealed to her party MLAs and MPs to donate at least Rs 1 crore from their MLA fund, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in a widely noticeable response on 4 April, not only thanked Mayawati for her support but said that political parties and organisations with different ideologies have the responsibility to ensure participation in this global war by abandoning their political or ideological prejudices.
The BSP has been nursing its wounds suffered in elections since 2017, and the desertion by many party leaders in recent months. The party has been quite inactive nationally as well, but Mayawati continues to assert her position as a leader of the Dalit community. Yogi’s gesture could well have a political meaning behind it.