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'Kejriwal is waking up now after COVID-19 has spread'

Last updated on: June 26, 2020 11:36 IST

'The main reason being Kejriwal's working style is very centralised.'
'And if you don't form a team and work, take bureaucrats into confidence, take doctors and hospitals into confidence, this problem was surely going to evolve.'

IMAGE: A medical worker collects a sample from a woman at a school turned into a centre for conducting coronavirus tests in New Delhi. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

On June 24, Delhi overtook Mumbai to become the city with the highest number of novel coronavirus cases in the country.

Delhi now has more than 70,000 cases, almost 40,000 of which have been detected in the last two weeks. Mumbai has about 800 less.

Ashutosh, the well-known journalist-turned-founding member of the Aam Aadmi Party-turned political observer, knows Delhi as very few would know.

Amid the rising COVID-19 cases in the national capital, he tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com why the Arvind Kejriwal government, which won another term in office in February, has failed Delhi's citizens.

On May 31 there were 4,500 coronavirus cases in Delhi. By June 20, Delhi had 53,000 cases. Now it has outdone Mumbai by becoming the worst-hit city in the country with over 70,000 cases. Where did the Delhi government fail?

I don't think the Delhi government has failed in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

If you see, Delhi conducted around 5,000 to 6,000 tests in May. And after the high court passed an order, the Delhi government in the past 20 days has been carrying out an average of 20,000 tests per day.

So, the more testing Delhi is doing, the more COVID-19 patients are being found.

Now if you compare that with Mumbai, they are testing around 5,000 people per day.

Delhi is testing five times more than Mumbai and therefore you are seeing more numbers.

Moreover, Delhi has introduced rapid antigen tests (on June 18) which has increased the capacity to test more people. In this testing procedure results are out in 45 minutes.

Don't you agree that the Delhi government did not enforce proper rules for containment zones and did not conduct proper contact tracing due to which the numbers have increased?

The Delhi government came to power with two priorities: Education and health. They increased the education budget by 100 per cent and the health budget by 40 per cent.

They spoke of mohalla clinics, polyclinics and hospitals and spoke about revolutionising the health sector.

They (the Aam Aadmi Party) used to proudly say that then United Nations secretary-general Ban ki-Moon praised the Delhi government's health infrastructure. They used to say the Kerala and Telangana health minister used to come and learn and implement the health policies of Delhi.

But the question that needs to be asked is: When COVID-19 cases were first reported in China in December, what were Arvind Kejriwal and his team doing?

Unlike other political party leaders, AAP leaders are relatively more educated and aware of things. They saw Italy and Spain getting engulfed with coronavirus. The Delhi government should have prepared well before the pandemic broke in India.

Now, compare this with Kerala where the government set up a task force immediately in January and formed teams of around 2.5 lakh volunteers to fight COVID-19.

They went to different villages in Kerala and sensitised people about COVID-19, which the Delhi government did not do in time.

I was expecting they would do that because the people in government (in Delhi) are well educated. And here they failed.

How far is it true that the lack of coordination between the Centre and Delhi government and the dual power structure has led to a failure in the fight against coronavirus?

This is true and there is no doubt about it.

In fact, in Delhi, there is a triple power centre. The central government takes care of law and order and land (issues).

The general administration is looked after by the AAP government.

And the third power is the municipal corporations of Delhi which is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

There are hospitals of the MCD, Delhi state government hospitals, army hospital. Then there are hospitals like AIIMS and Safdarjung hospital and private hospitals.

Therefore, there has to be a coordination among all of them, but since AAP came to power, they had a confrontationist attitude (with the BJP which rules the Centre and Delhi municipalities).

Now, Arvind Kejriwal has played a smart move by meeting Home Minister Amit Shah to solve the COVID-19 situation.

Now, the perception is that Amit Shah is handling Delhi's COVID-19 crisis.

Therefore, I can say they began with a confrontationist attitude, but then they came to terms with the central government in the last one month.

So, are you saying that the Centre, the AAP government and the BJP-led Delhi municipalities are on the same page when it comes to tackling COVID-19?

Yes, and that suits Arvind Kejriwal.

The BJP is the (AAP's) principal opponent party in Delhi.

If Kejriwal is now working with Amit Shah, then there will be no protest against him by the BJP.

At present, Amit Shah is in front to solve the COVID-19 crisis in Delhi and Kejriwal is at the back.

If things go wrong, Kejriwal can always say why should he be blamed as the show is being run by Amit Shah who is the most powerful minister in the BJP. It is a smart political move by Kejriwal.

IMAGE: A woman adjusts her daughter's face mask outside their home in a slum area in New Delhi. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Kejriwal highlighted outsiders and said that people coming from other states were eating into the resources of the Delhi government's health infrastructure. How far is this true? Do outsiders add to the count of COVID-19 patients in Delhi?

You must be knowing the fact that today the ones who are stuck at one place are stuck there. They are unable to move and cross state borders in times of the pandemic.

Why would a man from Uttar Pradesh come and treat himself in Delhi's hospital in these times?

This outsider theory was floated by Kejriwal who wanted to portray to Delhiites that he is going to fight for them.

The regional pride and regional politics that is seen in places like Maharashtra is not seen in Delhi. Kejriwal wants to make people of Delhi aware of their regional aspirations.

He just wanted to send a message to the people of Delhi that he alone is fighting for their cause.

There is no regional consciousness among the people of Delhi, but Kejriwal's party is trying to light a fire of regional aspiration in the people of Delhi.

This politics has got nothing to do with coronavirus.

And if you notice, Kejriwal had announced a lockdown in Delhi much before Modi announced it on March 23.

Kejriwal started well to fight against coronavirus, but somewhere down the line he slipped.

Can we say that AAP became complacent after their election victory and neglected Delhi when coronavirus struck?

Kejriwal could not foresee what havoc coronavirus could do in Delhi.

The kind of co-ordination with local agencies that was needed did not happen in time.

The main reason being Kejriwal's working style is very centralised. He does not believe in co-ordination.

And if you don't form a team and work, take bureaucrats into confidence, take doctors and hospitals into confidence, this problem was surely going to evolve.

Again, I am giving you the example of the Kerala government. Kerala was one of the first states of India to get coronavirus patients, but today it is at the bottom in numbers compared to other states of India.

The Kerala state health model is being praised all over the world now.

And today even one of the largest slums, Dharavi in Mumbai, has been able to contain coronavirus, which is a big achievement.

But if you say Delhi is worse than Mumbai then I will not support that statement as the data says something else.

If you see the death rates, in the last one week Mumbai has seen 102 deaths and in Delhi there are 66 deaths.

The recovery rate of Delhi is 69 per cent and that of Mumbai is 63 per cent.

Another point is that Delhi has tested 4 lakh people and Mumbai has tested only 3 lakh people.

So you feel the situation is under control in Delhi?

This bad situation shouldn't have come to Delhi in the first place. I cannot absolve the Delhi government.

I am only saying that if you say Delhi has gone far ahead than Mumbai in terms of COVID-19 cases, I won't agree because the data says something else.

If you test 20,000 people all of a sudden in a day in Mumbai then the numbers too will surely rise.

When do you think the situation will stabilise?

I think in Mumbai and Maharashtra the situation is plateauing.

If you see the figures for the last 10 days the doubling rate is taking 40 days in Mumbai and in Delhi it is taking 12 days.

It means Mumbai has touched its peak and Delhi is touching its peak now.

I feel this situation will go on till at least till mid-July and that is worrisome because whether Delhi will be able to handle or not only time will tell. They should have been prepared earlier.

The much-touted mohalla clinics of Delhi failed badly. Is that surprising?

It failed because there was too much of marketing. The Kerala government handled the Nipah virus very well in 2018 and they were well prepared this time. The Delhi government could not handle COVID-19 at all.

If they had done proper co-ordination and sensitised people early or got an army of volunteers, things would have been very different.

The Delhi government is waking up now after COVID-19 has spread.

SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF