NEW DELHI: Slamming the government's alleged lack of preparedness to deal with the COVID-19 second wave and terming its vaccine strategy "abject failure", Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday said the BJP-led Centre cannot shift the blame as Jawaharlal Nehru isn't in-charge, Narendra Modi is and he should protect Indians.
In an exclusive interview with PTI, the Congress general secretary said constructive suggestions from opposition parties are being dismissed as politicisation rather than being accepted in the spirit that the nation is in crisis, every single life matters and, therefore, "all of us must stand together and do whatever we can to save lives regardless of our politics".
"They (government) are wasting time engaging in pettiness, making a minister respond to a letter addressed by a former prime minister who served this nation selflessly and with dignity to the present Prime Minister, Union Ministers are blaming state governments for increased oxygen consumption and central government press releases are targeting Opposition governments," she said.
Priyanka Gandhi's remarks come two days after Health Minister Harsh Vardhan responded to former prime minister Manmohan Singh's letter with suggestions on COVID-19 management, and alleged that the second wave of the pandemic was fuelled by Congress-ruled states as they were busy raising doubts about vaccines rather than vaccinating people.
Talking about the Congress' long-standing demand for universalization of COVID-19 vaccination and the government's inoculation strategy, Priyanka Gandhi slammed the government for exporting vaccine doses for a "PR exercise".
Thanks to 70 years of forward-thinking governance, today India is the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world, she said.
"The Union government enabled the export of six crore vaccines between January and March 2021. A huge PR exercise was conducted with photos of vaccines arriving in countries like Mauritius, Guyana and Nepal being circulated. During this same period, Indian citizens received only three to four crore doses," she said.
"Why didn't the government prioritise Indians first. Why did the prime minister place self-promotion above the nation? In a state like UP with a 22 crore population, only 1 crore doses have been administered," the Congress general secretary in-charge Uttar Pradesh said.
Foreign agencies purchased vaccines from Indian vaccine manufacturers much before the Indian government placed an order and several large countries placed advance orders for vaccines twice the size of their population, she said, adding that India placed its first order only in January 2021.
The Modi government's lack of foresight has compelled India to become an importer of vaccines today and even now, their "vaccine strategy is flawed and discriminatory", Priyanka Gandhi said.
"Why are free vaccines not being made available to 18-45 year olds? The new variants are supposedly even more virulent and many young people are affected. And why is the government allowing middlemen into the equation without price controls?" she said.
This is not a coherent strategy, it is an "abject failure", Priyanka Gandhi said.
Asked about Union minister Piyush Goyal's statement that states must keep oxygen demand under control, she said Goyal's "heartless comment" shows the "brutal coldness" at the heart of this administration.
"They see precious human life in terms of demand and supply.
But then what can one expect from a government led by a prime minister who is continuing to hold public rallies and laughing on stage while lakhs of people are crying for help, the healthcare system is reeling under a massive pandemic and lakhs of Indians are fighting for their lives," she said.
On the shortage of medical grade oxygen and critical medicines like Remdisivir, she said that due to the very governments that Prime Minister Modi holds responsible for every ill in the country, India's capacity as one of the world's largest producers of oxygen was built over decades.
India produces 7,500 Metric Tonnes of oxygen per day, at the peak of the last wave the cumulative use of oxygen in hospitals across the nation was less than half this quantity per day, she pointed out.
"We produce enough oxygen, the government has simply not created the adequate logistics to supply it across India. It had the entire period between the first and the second wave to do this. It did nothing," she alleged.
India has exported about 9,300 Metric Tonnes of Oxygen in the last 12 months, Priyanka Gandhi said and asked who is responsible for the deaths due to lack of oxygen.
India has exported 1.1 million injections of Remdesivir in the last six months and since December production of crucial medicine was reduced, she said.
"Export has been stopped only five days back, Why? Who can they shift the blame onto? Jawaharlal Nehru isn't in charge, Narendra Modi is. He should step up to the plate. He is the Prime Minister. It is incumbent on him to protect Indians, to give them a sense of safety and to fight this battle from the front," Priyanka Gandhi said.
She asserted that the Congress is firm in its commitment towards the people of India to remain constructive and supportive during this crisis.
"We have not and will not politicise this unprecedented human tragedy under any circumstances. We will, however, continue to push the government to act, we will continue to raise issues that need to be addressed urgently to save lives, they can label us in whichever terms they like," she asserted.
"We fully understand our responsibility towards our country. Manmohan Singh ji, the Congress President (Sonia Gandhi) and Rahul ji have all offered our party's constructive cooperation to the prime minister time and again," Priyanka Gandhi added.
India has been regularly registering over 2 lakh COVID-19 cases daily.