NEW DELHI, May 26 (AGENCIES): Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said the four phases of the nationwide lockdown have “failed” and not given the results that Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected as he urged the Centre to spell out its strategy for “opening up” the country.
Addressing an online press conference, he expressed concern that India is the only country which is relaxing the lockdown when the virus is “exponentially rising”. He said that if the government functions haphazardly during the non-lockdown period, the country will face a second wave of coronavirus which will be “extremely devastating”.
Gandhi further said if money is not given in the hands of the poor and small and medium industry, there could be “serious economic damage” in the country as he sought to know the government’s plan to support migrants and various states in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to ask the government, what is their strategy as far as India’s opening up is concerned and what precautions they are going to take, how are they thinking and how they are going to support the migrants and our states?” he asked.
He said it is important that the government share concrete plans for how it intends to deal with the migrants crisis and how it plans to scale up testing which is urgently needed.
There are many critical questions that the government is not providing us answers to, which need to be addressed urgently, he alleged. Gandhi said the prime minister had said the war against coronavirus would be won in 21 days, but 60 days later, it is now clear whether the lockdown has not been able to defeat the virus.
With the number of new cases increasing exponentially, he said, it is clear that the prime minister and his advisors had underestimated the scale of the battle India had to launch to defeat coronavirus.
The prime minister was quick to take centrestage in the early stages of this battle, Gandhi said, adding now he has stepped back when his leadership is most needed.
However, he said governments in Congress-ruled states are fighting valiantly against the virus, but they are struggling because the funding that the central government should have made available to them has not been forthcoming.
“What India is facing now is a result of a failed lockdown. It is pretty clear that the four stages of lockdown have not given the result that the prime minister expected,” he said.
He said though he does not wish get into why the government failed, but with the disease profile not reducing and is shooting up instead the government needs to tell what it is thinking of doing going forward.
The former Congress chief said though he is not an expert but “we need to open up with planning and systematically and not in an ad-hoc way”.
He said the country’s economy needs to be restored and that needs to be done by infusing money into the hands of the poor and the small and medium businesses.
“The central government must infuse cash into hands of people and it will be fatal if they do not do it,” he noted.
A dangerous situation will arise if financial support to people and industry is not provided, he warned.
The Congress leader called for financial support to states, saying it will be difficult for them to function without central aid. They have said that they are fighting a “lonely battle” but are confident.
He also called upon the central government to be transparent about what is happening in Ladakh and Nepal.
“We would like the central government to make it clear to people on what is happening on the border with China,” he said. Asked about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra, where the Congress is a partner in the government, Gandhi said there is a difference between running the government and supporting a government.
“We are supporting the Maharashtra government, but we are not in the key decision-making role,” he said, adding that Maharashtra requires full support of the central government as the state is fighting a very difficult battle.
Gandhi said in Congress-run states have been doing whatever they can to both stop the spread of the virus and reducing the economic pain the people are facing through direct cash transfers and other measures.
“But, without financial support from the Centre our state governments’ ability to help those urgently in need of support is limited,” he noted, adding that “states are hamstrung if the national government is not behind them.”
On the economic stimulus announced so far, he said, economists in India and around the world have done the math and come to the “sad conclusion” that the economic stimulus announced by the prime minister is actually less than one per cent of our GDP and that too most of it is in terms of loans that could drag our MSME’s into a debt trap from which they will struggle to recover. He noted that India was smart and intelligent enough to work out a path through a successful compromise between health and economics.