India’s ruling party admits for first time that ‘responsibility is ours’ for Covid crisis

BJP spokesperson concedes that holding election rallies in West Bengal was ‘unfortunate’

Maroosha Muzaffar
Friday 30 April 2021 07:42 BST
Optimism over Covid-19 crisis 'should have been more restrained' says Narendra Taneja

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India’s ruling party has admitted for the first time that the responsibility for the coronavirus catastrophe across the country belongs “first and foremost” to the government.

In an interview with CNN, Narendra Taneja, a spokesperson for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “We are in power; we are the government in India, so of course responsibility is first and foremost ours, good or bad, whatever it is.”

“It is our responsibility and we’re trying our very level best,” Mr Taneja told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

According to data released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Friday, India saw a total of more than 386,000 Covid-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, and 3,498 deaths. More than 200,000 deaths in India have been attributed to the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

Many countries have offered aid to the country amid the devastating second wave. On Friday morning, a US military plane delivered emergency supplies from America, carrying 400 oxygen cylinders, other hospital equipment, and 1 million rapid Covid-19 test kits.

Meanwhile, Mr Taneja said in the interview that the government could not have foreseen the crisis unfolding across the country.

He said: “A lot of people are saying that ...  we knew in February. At that time, scientists and doctors were more or less of the same view.”

He added: “Evidently something went wrong. Evidently we were hit by a tsunami, and, as you know, you’re often not aware. In most cases, 80-90 per cent of reasons could be external. We don’t know. We don’t want to blame anybody.”

Mr Taneja said the focus is now “on how we can save lives”.

Meanwhile, there are reports of the government severely under-reporting the number of dead in order to cover up the actual figures. Crematoriums and graveyards are fast running out of space, with makeshift crematoriums being constructed in city parks and parking lots.

Hospitals have been struggling with a severe shortage of oxygen cylinders, and patients are being turned away because there are no beds available.

For the past nine days, India has witnessed more than 300,000 positive cases every day.

In a viral video on Thursday, a young woman from Lucknow, sobbing and angry, challenged the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, to arrest her. He had earlier claimed that there was no shortage of oxygen in the state and said that anyone found spreading false information would be arrested.

Experts have predicted that the peak of the wave will come in mid-May. As per the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the death toll could peak at more than 13,000 per day by the middle of next month.

India is due to open up its vaccination drive for those above 18 from 1 May. However, there are reports of vaccine shortages in several states. The vaccination drive in Mumbai has been stopped for three days, from 30 April to 2 May, because of “depletion of available vaccines,” the local civic body said on Thursday.

In February, the BJP had declared victory over Covid-19 and called the prime minister, Narendra Modi, a “visionary”. However, Mr Taneja told CNN: “Many of us thought that language was a little bit too optimistic at that time.”

In his interview, Mr Taneja blamed the election commission for allowing political rallies to take place in West Bengal in March and April.

He said: “We as a political party – for that matter, all political parties in India – had no option but to go along with it. These are regional elections which had been going on for the last one and a half months; it was not just one date, there were several dates and there were various state assemblies ... That was planned a long time in advance by the election commission of India, which is a constitutional authority reporting only to parliament.”

He said that the government could not give the commission a directive because it is autonomous.

He said that the rallies gave “a kind of message that Covid was over, the threat of Covid was over. That was a bit unfortunate, but as I said, that was not in the hands of the government.”

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