Launching a no holds barred attack against the Modi government on Friday over its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, 22 opposition parties accused it of 'unabashedly usurping' powers of states and abandoning any pretense of being democratic, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi terming the prime minister's announcement of economic package to deal with the situation as a 'cruel joke on the country'.
These parties also asked the Centre to present a revised comprehensive economic package that will be a 'true stimulus' and sought reversal of all unilateral policy decisions, especially pertaining to labour laws, as they put forth a 11-point demand charter before the government during a virtual meeting, called by the Congress to discuss the situation arising out of the pandemic as well as the lockdown.
Addressing the meeting, which was among others attended by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress head Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Jharkhand Chief Minister and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Hemant Soren, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M K Stalin, Gandhi said the government is uncertain about the criteria for enforcing the lockdown with no exit strategy and has 'cruelly ignored' scores of migrant workers and the 13 crore families in the bottom half of the population.
"The government has abandoned any pretence of being democratic and all power is now concentrated in only one office -- the PMO," she said.
"The prime minister's announcement of a grand Rs 20 lakh crore package on May 12 and the finance minister spelling out its details over the next five days have turned out to be a cruel joke on the country," she added.
Hitting back, the Bharatiya Janata Party accused the Congress of playing 'cynical' politics over the COVID-19 crisis, saying Gandhi and her 'family' have 'indulged in drama' at the time of a national catastrophe.
BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said it is the Congress president and her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who have 'played cruel jokes and cynical politics on migrant workers'.
During the virtual meeting, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said there would be economic devastation if the poor were not helped urgently with cash and free rations.
A joint statement by these parties said the Centre has failed in discharging its responsibilities in a timely, effective and sensitive manner during the pandemic, and claimed that the economy has collapsed and all sections of society face acute distress, with livelihoods having been destroyed and many lives lost.
It said grand announcements have been made by the government but they have not done anything meaningful to alleviate the sufferings of people and address the pressing concerns of farmers, migrants and other workers.
'In fact, the Union government has unabashedly usurped powers vested in the States undermining the constitutionally guaranteed federal democracy,' they said, adding this is not the time for the Centre to indulge in 'showmanship or one-upmanship', but this is the time for a gigantic and collective endeavour.
'It is important that the government reaches out and engages in a dialogue with all political parties in a systematic manner, listen seriously to the suggestions that we have to make, activate Parliamentary institutions like Standing Committees and be genuine in helping the states financially and otherwise,' the parties said in the statement.
They also demanded a direct cash transfer of Rs 7,500 per month to families outside the Income tax bracket for 6 months apart from an immediate cash assistance of Rs 10,000 along with free ration.
Other demands included free transportation for migrant workers to their native places and immediate and reliable arrangements to rescue all Indian students and other citizens stranded overseas, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said at a press conference.
He said the parties have also demanded that the Centre should immediately provide a financial package for states, besides a clear and meaningful economic strategy focused on revival of economy and poverty alleviation instead of 'propaganda'.
"These 22 parties represent over 60 to 70 per cent of the country's population and hoped the prime minister and the government would take a positive view of their demands," Surjewala said.
Other leaders who attended the meeting included Janata Dal-Secualr leader H D Deve Gowda, besides Communist Party of India-Marxist's Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India's D Raja, Sharad Yadav (Loktantrik Janata Dal), Omar Abdullah (National Conference), Tejashwi Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal), Jitan Ram Manjhi (Hindustani Awami Morcha), Upendra Kushwaha (Rashtriya Lok Samata Party), Jose K Mani (Kerala Congress-Mani), Badruddin Ajmal (All India United Democratic Front), Jayant Chaudhary (Rashtriya Lok Dal).
Congress leaders A K Antony, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Mallikarjun Kharge were also present during the meeting.
The opposition parties also passed a resolution urging the Centre to immediately declare the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan in Odisha and West Bengal as a national calamity and called for substantially helping the two states in facing the impact of the disaster.