The country’s strategy to fight coronavirus, though not totally dreary, has certainly been vacillating at places. The most disturbing evidence of the same was the siege which migrant labourers from across the national capital laid at Anand Vihar-Kaushambi on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border. The crisis emanated not just from the lack of coordination between the two state governments, but also the various arms of state government working at cross purposes.
This happened because of the erosion of political edifice and larger-than-life role assigned to social media. The support provided by the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) to ferry migrant labourers to the border has been attributed to a message by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on Twitter. Can a social media post be taken as cornerstone of inter-state relationship?
The protocol in such situations is that the chief secretary of one state calls up the counterpart of the other before embarking on any such mission involving public life and safety. In the crisis under review, the transport commissioners of the two states could have been further delegated the responsibility of coordination. That obviously did not happen and we are keeping our fingers crossed, god forbid, on an impending human tragedy.
Protocols of inter-state functioning have been there in place for ages, but why is calibrated reaction from the government(s) is not forthcoming? The whole DTC operation was a case of mindless over-reaction by those at the helm, with no experience whatsoever of handling a crisis situation. Playing to gallery spurred by the social media posts has become benchmark of politics in this country, which is not a very happy situation.
The makers of our Constitution created a political structure from the grassroots to the Raisina Hills, with a focus on allowing a politician to mature with time in understanding the functioning of state administrative machinery. Politics was about providing governance. Unfortunately, in the last decade or so it has become all about winning elections, with poll managers emerging as political leaders.
With the winning of the elections being the sole barometer of a political person’s competence, the Delhi government’s response, not surprisingly, was laden with both manifest and latent objectives. Manifest objective obviously being to appear to be doing the best it can in the face of adversity and odds; latent objective being to create conditions to justify comprehensive failure on all fronts and blame it on Covid-19.
It's beyond comprehension why poor labourers started to leave Delhi when none was supposed to step out of their homes, places where they spend their nights. What started this mad rush? Initial information is that the mass exodus of the poor labourers, who form the workforce of the national capital, was instigated courtesy rumours floating around.
Hopefully, the suspended Transport Commissioner of Delhi, Renu Sharma, and Divisional Commissioner Rajeev Verma would be able to explain why buses were provided to drop the migrants on the Delhi-UP border. Was the decision taken of their own volition or were they following somebody's diktat?
Going back on the manifest objectives, the Delhi government has been trumpeting hard through newspaper and television advertisements about lakhs being provided shelter and food. If the government was functioning so efficiently, the Aam Aadmi Party MLAs would not be releasing press statements claiming they were distributing small goodies like hand sanitisers.
The figures of the homeless in Delhi is not gigantic and can be published by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), giving details of how many sleep in their night shelters. The crowd which assembled at Kaushambi was much bigger than those availing the night shelters. The truth is that people who were living in JJ clusters, janata colonies started to leave Delhi.
Here comes the role of another arm of the government, the Delhi Police, which is directly under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. In the past few months, the intelligence apparatus of the Delhi Police has remained completely clueless, be it protests by families of cops, the assembly at Shaheen Bagh, occupying streets at Maujpur and now the movement of the migrants.
How did the movement of such a huge number of buses during lockdown remain unreported? The buses did not come out of the blue but from the designated DTC depots. Was there no dialogue between the transport department and the traffic arm of the Delhi Police on the bus movement? These are things very common even on an ordinary day.
If this was not enough, we now get to know about the congregation in Nizamuddin area of the capital courtesy the deaths in Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir. As things are emerging, this assembly in Nizamuddin could prove to be the biggest challenge in containing Covid-19 infections.
Someone in the police hierarchy starting from the Police Commissioner, the Lieutenant Governor, the Union Home Secretary or for that matter the union home ministry has to fix accountability for the failures. The earlier it’s done, the better for the country battling a colossal crisis.
The political class of the country would do better by keeping aside their games of one-upmanship on social media forums aside for a while and focus on saving humanity which is facing the challenge of survival.