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Covid sparks political boxing in West Bengal

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Perhaps unlike any other state, Bengal’s battle against Covid-19, both with regard to prevention and cure of the disease and providing relief during the lockdown, has turned political, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) trading barbs on a daily basis.

Over the past one week, senior BJP leaders, including state president Dilip Ghosh, union minister Babul Supriyo, Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta and BJP’s IT cell’s national head Amit Malviya took to social media to criticize the Mamata Banerjee-led government on a range of issues, including politicizing relief work, faulty implementation of the lockdown and suppressing data with regard to the number of Covid19 patients.

In contrast, the Left, reserved all their praise for the Left-run Kerala government, and has kept itself from criticizing the Bengal government, saying that they wouldn’t bring politics into times of a national disaster. In response, when the Left sent Mamata a letter suggesting some measures, she promptly invited the Left leaders for a detailed discussion at the state secretariat on April 7.

Supriyo, who recently made a series of social media posts over the past few days targeting the state government, wrote in one of his tweets that “WB Govt is into serious hara-kiri” and in another wrote, “WB under #TMchhi is lying thru their teeth!”

The ‘pinned tweet’ in Supriyo’s account, posted on April 7, says, Truth of @MamataOfficialji’s regime in WB. Every1 is complaining • Nurses, Doctors spilling beans on condition of Anonymity • And, if there is so much smoke, Didi must b playing with Fire @AmitShah @PMOIndia @JPNadda @BJP4India #Covid_19.” This post also had a video attached which said “Mamata Banerjee is doing what China did to the world.”

Supriyo argued that he was doing all these “NOT FOR POLITICS – NOT TO SCORE ANY POLITICAL POINTS ON @MamataOfficial but FOR the people of Bengal because I am OF THEM – BY them & therefore remain committed to the larger picture!”

On April 7, Dasgupta shared on Twitter the photo of a text that he claimed to be “a copy of a message circulated on a WhatsApp group of senior bureaucrats in W Bengal”. The photo attached to this tweet read: “To all DMs, DNOs and Div Com – District Magistrates are advised not to respond to any query or message from officers of GoI. They should not give any report to anybody in GoI directly. In case of health related matters the concerned officer may be politely advised to contact principal secretary health and in case of queries on lockdown measures the officer may be advised to contact the chief secretary.”

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, skipped one of the two video conferences that PM Modi held with chief ministers of different states, twice put the entire blame on the Centre for Tablighi Jamaat’s March 15 event at Nizamuddin Markaz in New Delhi, repeatedly accused the Centre of not providing the state with adequate protective gears, masks and sanitizers for those in the frontline of battling Covid-19 and also of holding on to the state’s legitimate dues.

“I am sorry to say that the IT cell of a political party is spreading fake news,” she said on April 6, though without naming BJP. At the same breath, while drawing an oblique reference to the ‘9 pm 9-min’ show of April 5, she said, “Those who have hit the streets with kansar (a musical instrument used in religious events) and ghonta (bells) are misleading the people. This is not the time for politics.”

“The Centre is not helping at all. We are doing everything on our own,” she said on April 6.

Her nephew and TMC youth wing chief Abhishek Banerjee was more direct while criticizing the ‘9 pm 9-min’ show. In a tweet on the night of April 5, he wrote, “With the firecrackers, fancy diyas & sky lanterns, we have become the first ever Nation to celebrate a pandemic #COVID19 I am also contemplating how many actually followed the norms of #lockdown to gear up for this. What was being preached: self-isolation or self-destruction?”

While Mamata Banerjee turned down the Centre’s request to let jute mills and tea gardens functions, Supyiyo took digs at the state government for exempting flower, beetle leaves and sweet shops from the lockdown. “Opening up Flowers, Paan, Sweet Shops! R U kidding me?” Supriyo wrote on Twitter on April 8.

Political analysts Amal Mukhopadhyay said, “Both the parties are trying to exploit the situation in their own interest. This is extremely unfortunate and undesirable. This is absolutely not the time for a blame game. I would appeal to them to practice restraint.”

Incidentally, BJP emerged as TMC’s principal challenger in 2019 by bagging 18 of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha seats against 22 won by TMC. The state-wide civic elections in more than 100 municipal bodies are due in May-June and the Assembly elections are due in 2021.

Courtesy – HindustanTimes

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