Opposition cracks in open as PM Modi seeks unity at Covid briefing

Maintaining that India is in a better position than many countries in terms of the ratio of population hit by Covid-19, the Prime Minister underlined that India cannot afford to lower the guard.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Parliament floor leaders Tuesday that the Union government and the states must work together as a team and rise above politics to tackle the spread of the pandemic.

Maintaining that India is in a better position than many countries in terms of the ratio of population hit by Covid-19, the Prime Minister underlined that India cannot afford to lower the guard. He referred to the resurgence of Covid-19 infection in some countries like the UK.

The nearly three-hour meeting at Parliament House Annexe to brief floor leaders on the government’s management of the pandemic saw division in the Opposition ranks.

While the Congress, CPM, CPI, AAP and RJD stayed away – so did former BJP ally SAD — leaders of the Trinamool Congress, NCP, SP, Shiv Sena and DMK attended the meeting.

A senior Opposition leader said: “There was utter confusion. There was no decision either to attend or to stay away. There was no discussion. So some of us attended and some of the parties stayed away.”

Asked about the Congress decision to stay away from the meeting, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said the Congress wants the government to brief all MPs in the Central Hall of Parliament, and not just floor leaders of parties.

Another Opposition leader said: “Had the entire Opposition stayed away, it would have not looked nice. The BJP would have said we are playing politics over the pandemic.”

“We had told the government that a discussion on the floor of the House should be held first. The government agreed to our demand and we had a five-hour discussion in Rajya Sabha on the Covid situation… So there was no point in staying away,” a leader said.

Sources said there were differences within the Congress too on the decision to stay away from the presentation made by Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan at the meeting.

A senior Opposition leader, who attended the meeting, said Bhushan made a detailed presentation. “The slides referred to absolute numbers, how many vaccinations have been done, and the absolute numbers are so much higher than other countries. Even in the comparison of states, they talked in absolute numbers, and obviously the big states have more absolute numbers. What was missing was the percentage of the population vaccinated, and how states are performing, and how we will meet those targets,” the leader said.

“At one point, the Prime Minister said that when India wins a medal at the Olympics, it is the country’s medal, not of one government or political party… Similarly when India will win the battle against Covid… it will not be of one government or any political party,” the leader quoted the Prime Minister as saying.

The Prime Minister, sources said, informed leaders that vaccines from more companies are likely to be available in some time. Sources said the presentation followed queries and suggestions from leaders of various parties.

The Shiv Sena and TMC demanded more vaccines for Maharashtra and West Bengal, respectively. Leaders of the BJD and TMC also demanded that the government expedite the process of getting international recognition for the indigenous vaccine Covaxin.

TRS leader Nama Nageswara Rao urged the government to boost the vaccination drive and noted with concern that the second wave had affected the rural population as well. Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh were among those present at the meeting. NCP’s Sharad Pawar, SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav, BJD’s Pinaki Misra, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva and RSP’s N K Premachandran were among the Opposition leaders at the meeting.

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