Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray (left) and BJP's Devendra Fadnavis. File image
For nearly 18 months now, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra has been up in arms against leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), more specifically against Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis, and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, whom the state government has accused of partisan behaviour favouring the BJP.
Ever since Fadnavis was pipped to the post of Chief Minister by Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray, the former Chief Minister has been relentless at his attempts to dislodge the government by levelling one allegation after another. The latest being about the massive corruption in the Mumbai Police and the government.
Somehow the state government has managed to deflect such attempts till now, and has landed on its feet.
However, the COVID-19 second wave that has taken Maharashtra by storm seems to have changed the earlier semi-cordial relations between the BJP-run Centre and the state government.
One would have hoped that our political class would put their differences aside and focus on beating the virus — but they’ve been at daggers drawn, and more so now.
On April 17 news reports suggested that the Maharashtra CMO thrice called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to apprise him about the oxygen crisis the state would soon face, but were told that he was busy campaigning (for the polls in West Bengal). The Centre’s response, which came from Union Minister Piyush Goyal, was that the MVA government was indulging in ‘shameless’ and ‘petty politics’.
Another controversy surfaced around life-saving drug Remdesivir. On the same day, April 17, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and state minister Nawab Malik said that 16 Remdesivir exporting companies in Maharashtra were told by the Centre to not supply to the state. The Centre, however, negated these comments saying the minister was not aware of the ground situation.
Close on the heels of this was the shocking development when the Mumbai Police received a tip off about the alleged smuggling of more than 60,000 vials of Remdesivir worth Rs 5 crore. Even as they hauled in the directors of the company for questioning, Fadnavis and his supporters rushed to their rescue, stating that it was part of the BJP’s ‘effort to get Remdesivir for Maharashtra’.
It is not clear whether private individuals can interfere in the procurement of life-saving drugs. In the meantime, the Gujarat Police arrested the same group in Daman for allegedly hoarding and smuggling the drugs, further increasing the mystery and intrigue in what happened at the Vile Parle police station. The Maharashtra government has expressed intentions to investigate the matter.
All these political developments were taking place at a time when the state is undergoing a health crisis of alarming proportion: COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the healthcare infrastructure is bursting at the seams, and there is a shortage of drugs, and no clear distribution networks in place.
Given the population density in many cities across Maharashtra containing the virus was never going to be an easy task, for any government. The current curfews in place are lighter versions of the lockdown imposed in early 2020. Businesses have been affected and trade bodies have even threatened to sue the government for its curfews.
Curfews in itself have a limited effect, because it only minimises crowds in public places. One can expect curfew restrictions to increase in the days ahead, till the case load comes down, more drugs are available and the curve is flattened.
Clearly there are no winners in this race against the virus and there is only so much the government can do or accomplish without the co-operation of the people.
By comparison, last year was relatively easy. People were afraid and stayed home. Now they are not and contributing hugely to the pandemic. It might be very difficult to break the chain.