NEW DELHI/AURANGABAD: As India recorded the highest single-day COVID-19 cases and deaths, a political feud broke out on Saturday over the Centre's handling of the grave health crisis and on the issue of supply of medical oxygen and antiviral drug Remdesivir to the worst affected state of Maharashtra.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena traded charges of playing politics over the COVID situation even as the Congress Working Committee(CWC), the highest decision making body of the party, accused the Centre of "colossal mismanagement" in the war against pandemic and warned of an "unprecedented catastrophe" unless urgent corrective measures are taken.
The country added 2,34,692 new coonavirus cases and 1,341 fatalities due to the disease pushing its COVID-19 tally to 1,45,26,609 and the death toll to 1,75,649, the Union Health Ministry said.
The Congress also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "shocking callousness" for addressing rallies in poll-bound West Bengal "instead of staying in Delhi" to handle the COVID pandemic situation.
Congress' senior spokesperson P Chidambaram said the prime minister should be at his job, sitting at his desk and coordinating with chief ministers in handling the pandemic.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said he had tried to contact Prime Minister Narendra Modi on phone regarding the supply of medical oxygen for the state but was told the PM was not available since he was busy campaigning for the West Bengal elections.
He was speaking to industrialists and representatives of trade bodies like FICCI and CII via video conferencing.
On Saturday, Maharashtra reported 67,123 new COVID-19 cases, its highest single-day rise so far, besides 419 deaths.
Earlier in the day, Union minister Piyush Goyal attacked Uddhav Thackeray on the issue of availability of oxygen in the state, saying Maharashtra has so far received the highest quantity of oxygen in India and the Centre is in regular touch with state governments to assess their needs.
"Maharashtra is suffering from an inept and corrupt government and the Centre is doing its best for the people. People of Maharashtra are following 'Majha Kutumb, Majhi Javabadari' dutifully. It is time the CM (chief minister) also follows his duties in the spirit of 'Majha Rajya, Majhi Javabadari'," the commerce and industry minister said.
In a series of tweets, Goyal said he was shocked and saddened to see petty politics being played by the chief minister.
"He needs to stop his daily dose of shameless politics and take responsibility. Saddened to see @OfficeOfUT's gimmicks on oxygen. GoI (government of India), with all stakeholders, is ensuring maximum oxygen production in India."
Medical-grade oxygen is used for the treatment of critical COVID-19 patients and in other cases of respiratory diseases.
"Maharashtra needs oxygen supply and all oxygen produced is being used for medical purpose. I contacted Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the need for oxygen supply, but he wasn't available on phone yesterday since he was busy with the West Bengal poll campaign. But the Centre is cooperating with the state," Thackeray is quoted as saying in a release issued by the Chief Minister's Office (CMO).
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan spoke to Chief Minister Thackeray and reassured him of adequate and uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen and all possible support related to healthcare infrastructure, medicines and therapeutics.
In a tweet, Vardhan said additional 1,121 ventilators are being rushed to the state considering the surge in coronavirus cases.
Holding the Centre and the Election Commission (EC) responsible for the second COVID wave in India, the Shiv Sena said the virus spread across the country more rapidly from those states, where polls were either held recently or are still underway.
Had the Centre reduced its "dose of politics" and focused on tackling the pandemic, the situation would been under control, it said.
"China might have been responsible for the outbreak of the pandemic in India, but for the second wave of coronavirus, the Election Commission and the Centre are responsible.
The virus spread at 500 times more speed to the rest of the country from the states where polls were either held recently or are still underway," the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece 'Saamana'.
"For the sake of elections and their political interests, the rulers in Delhi created a wave of pandemic. There is a shortage of oxygen, Remdesivir medicine, hospital beds and ventilators in the country at present. Crematoriums are overflowing. But the central government is busy in electioneering in West Bengal. Had the Centre reduced its dose of politics and instead focused on the war against coronavirus, then the situation would have been under control," it added.
The Centre should keep aside ego and the "political profit-loss calculations" and talk to all with an open mind, the Sena said.
A war of words also erupted between Union Minister Mansukh L Mandaviya and NCP leader Nawab Malik on the availability of Remdesivir.
Malik, in a series of tweets, alleged that the central government is not giving permission to various export oriented units (EoUs) in the country to sell the drug in the domestic market.
The allegations were strongly refuted by Mandaviya, the Minister of State of Chemicals and Fertilisers, who said the government is making every effort to double the production of the drug in the country.
"Tweets by @nawabmalikncp are shocking. It is full of half truths and lies and the threats issued are unacceptable. He is unaware of the ground situation. GoI has been in active contact with officers of GoM and is assisting with supply of Remdesivir in every manner," Mandaviya tweeted.
"Ensuring adequate supply of Remdesivir to the people of Maharashtra remains our priority," he said on Twitter.
Earlier, Malik, a minister in the Maharashtra government, alleged that there were 16 EoUs in the country that have 20 lakh vials of Remdesivir available with them.
"Since exports are now banned by the government, these units are seeking permission to sell this medicine in our country but central government is denying the same," he tweeted.
Speaking to reporters later, Malik said, "Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was trying to speak to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over phone (on the issue), but was told that he (PM) is on a tour of West Bengal. This shows that the BJP is more interested in winning elections than tackling this crisis."
When contacted, state BJP spokesperson Keshav Upadhaye reacted sharply saying, "Instead of making such wild and baseless allegations, Nawab Malik should provide proof or else he should apologise. It is high time that Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) stops the blame game and does its job of handling the pandemic."
The Maharashtra Congress also accused the Centre of stopping the supply of Remdesivir to the state due to a "lust for power".
The accusation was made by the party's state unit spokesperson Sachin Sawant.
"Such brutal politics is a disgrace to humanity," he said in a press release, and apparently targeting Prime Minister Modi claimed history would note that "modern day Nero" was busy with electioneering in West Bengal "while the country was burning".
A CWC statement accused the central government of failing on 14 different fronts in handling the pandemic.
"We have indicted the government on the way it has handled the pandemic," Congress leader Chidambaram told reporters in Delhi.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra flagged the "deteriorating" COVID-19 situation in Uttar Pradesh and said the state government should try to solve the problems being faced by the people instead of "exacerbating" them and "hiding" statistics.
Uttar Pradesh's daily COVID-19 cases surged to a record high of 27,426 on Friday, taking its cumulative tally to 7,93,720.