Ahead of a crucial review and consultative meeting between Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister to finalise next stage of response to fight Covid-19, there are reports of a disconnect between Opposition-ruled states and the Centre. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs & Water Resources Arjun Ram Meghwal spoke about Ashok Gehlot’s Government in Rajasthan trying to score political points against the Centre even in the midst of a health emergency. The minister also said Rahul Gandhi’s insistence on rapid testing has been flawed as ICMR has all along suggested only RT-PCR Tests can be relied upon.
Q. As a minister and as a former bureaucrat, you have a good understanding of Rajasthan. How do you see the current situation in the state, especially since there has been a recent surge in cases?
A. There has been a surge in the number of hotspots in Rajasthan. The trend is increasing in Jaipur, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Kota and the situation does not look completely under control right now. Even in Bikaner — where I come from — there are now 37 cases. Though this pandemic is the time for all stakeholders to come together, I have to point out that Ashok Gehlot and his cabinet have been constantly criticising and opposing the PM’s policies. This is not the right time, it is time to unite against coronavirus. This is not the time to score political points against each other.
Q. The rapid testing kits that India imported from China have failed quality standards. The Rajasthan government said only 5% are showing accurate results, how big a setback this is for the state?
A. As far as testing is concerned, ICMR has said from the very beginning that the gold standard is the RT-PCR test. But then both Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi kept insisting on conducting rapid tests. The Congress government in Rajasthan under the influence of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi asked for 10,000 tests. Now, after the inaccuracies have come t o l i g h t , I C M R h a d banned those tests for two days. What I want to highlight is that now is not the time for pushing one’s political agenda and anyone doing so would not be doing justice to mankind, which is fighting a deadly virus. This is a fight where all of humanity has to unite. Over the last few weeks, India has ramped up its overall health infrastructure which includes testing capabilities, hospital infrastructure to deal with the pandemic. All good and constructive suggestions from state governments are welcome as the effort is to have a united and coordinated response to Covid-19.
Q. Do you think that Opposition-ruled states like Rajasthan and West Bengal are not aligned with the Centre to chart out a clear roadmap to fight the virus and the larger impact it will have on livelihoods and economy?
A. I think most states have been aligned with the Centre, but it is only when certain elements use this opportunity to set a larger political agenda that the fight gets jeopardised. For instance, when the Central team went to Bengal, there has been no co-operation from the state government. This is deliberate and driven by political agenda. Likewise, in Rajasthan, a Congress MLA resorted to such low level of politics by asking people who was doing a better job — Ashok Gehlot or the Prime Minister. This kind of discourse does not behoove an elected representative.
Q. So, how do we ensure that this political one-upmanship doesn’t continue in the middle of a health emergency? And what advice you would like to give to the Rajasthan government right now?
A. There have been recent reports in global newspapers that people across the world are hailing PM Narendra Modi’s leadership in fighting Covid-19. This is a very good thing and everyone should accept it since he is the Prime Minister of this country and is working for everyone’s well-being. I have known the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, and several of his cabinet colleagues for a long time; it is my suggestion that they shouldn’t view this health scare as a political opportunity to score points over the Centre. This is not a time to indulge into a power struggle and indulge into blame game or take credit. Every government is doing good work and we must continue the same and not distract attention by taking credit.
Q. Do you think the Ordinance passed by the Union Cabinet, which has made attacks on doctors a non-bailable offence attracting strict penal provisions, will act as a deterrent against such attacks?
A. I feel very strongly about the repeated attacks on our doctors and police personnel. These are people who are risking their lives for our protection. Doctors are leaving their families to fight the disease and treat patients. Those who are opposing and attacking these ‘Covid-19 Warriors’ are doing great harm to humanity. The Ordinance is a very good move by the Centre and this will act as a deterrent against harassment against medical fraternity. In the wake of multiple attacks pan-India, the Ordinance was also a key demand that had been made by the Indian Medical Association. This will also bring about greater civic sense and respect for healthcare professionals and awareness that attacking doctors is tantamount to ensuring we do not succeed in the fight against the deadly virus.