Chief ministers, COVID-19, lockdown, coronavirus, paracetamol, Telangana, Andhra, Bengal, Mamata
The nation has witnessed a mixed performance from various Chief Ministers, marked by contrasting styles in their responses to the crisis and adoption of divergent strategies. File photo: PTI

Power trips to fever pills: How CMs responded to COVID-19 crisis

For some, it was a minor problem to begin with, that could be overcome with a dose of paracetamol. For others, it was just another platform for a confrontation with the Centre. For yet another, it provided a trigger for an internal power struggle.

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram

For some, it was a minor problem to begin with, that could be overcome with a dose of paracetamol. For others, it was just another platform for a confrontation with the Centre. For yet another, it provided a trigger for an internal power struggle.

The COVID-19 crisis has affected different politicians in different ways who are at the helm in the fight against the invisible enemy. As testing has become the buzzword in the time of coronavirus outbreak, it is also proving to be a testing time for chief ministers leading their states in the fight against the pandemic and its aftermath.

As their leadership skills are being put to test, it has been a mixed performance from them, marked by contrasting styles in their responses to the crisis and adoption of divergent strategies. The report card is a mixed bag of results in terms of checking the spread of the disease, enforcement of lockdown, protecting the interests of the poor, vulnerable sections, and migrants and the effectiveness of their political messaging.

Related news | In a fortnight, COVID-19 hotspot districts drop to 129 from 170

If Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan earned nationwide appreciation for leading the efforts to contain the spread of the virus and flatten the curve in his state, his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee drew flak for turning it into a political feud with the Centre and allegedly fudging the figures of the coronavirus casualties.

The Chief Ministers of the Telugu states—K Chandrasekhar Rao of Telangana and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh—underplayed the virus threat initially and appeared to adopt a casual approach. However, they got their act together soon after realising the seriousness of the issue and undertook divergent strategies with uneven outcomes.

For Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, the crisis has thrown up new challenges in the form of internal squabbles and power struggles in the cabinet.

Telugu states: a picture of contrast

In terms of public perception, KCR, as the Telangana Chief Minister is popularly known, is on top of the game regarding handling of the lockdown and its aftermath, despite the initial lethargy.

There have been no complaints in the state regarding the supply of essential commodities to people. Soon after the announcement of the lockdown, the state government announced an immediate financial assistance of ₹1,500 per family to purchase essential items in the state. The money is being directly transferred to the bank accounts linked to Aadhaar cards and ration cards of the beneficiaries. Besides this, each member of eligible poor families will be given 12 kg rice for free.

The migrant workers lodged in special camps are being given ₹500 each and 12 kg of rice. The entire package will cost ₹3,500 crore and benefit over 80 lakh families.

Related news | Migrant workers attack cops; demand wages, permit to go home

KCR, who is otherwise inaccessible to the media in normal times, has been holding press conferences regularly and explaining in detail the measures being taken by his government to ramp up medical infrastructure in the state. He has been able to instil a sense of confidence in the government’s ability to tackle the pandemic.

This is in sharp contrast to Jagan who has been avoiding the media. The entire burden of tackling the deadly disease has fallen on the shoulders of the bureaucracy without clear guidelines from the top. The AP government has announced free ration, including rice and tur dal, and ₹1,000 one-time cash assistance to each poor family. This economic package will cost the government exchequer ₹1,500 crore.

Aggressive testing for COVID-19

After importing the rapid test kits from South Korea, Andhra Pradesh has been aggressively testing for COVID-19.  The state is currently testing 1,400 persons per million, compared to the national average of 480 per million.

“The aggressive testing in the affected zones is helping us identify and isolate patients so that the spread can be minimised,” an official of the state medical and health department said.

Telangana, however, is facing criticism for not testing enough. Only those who show up with COVID-19 symptoms are being tested.

“There is no need for aggressive testing. We are correctly following the ICMR guidelines laid down for testing,” the state medical and health minister E Rajender said.

Related news | 24 contract COVID-19 after ‘bored’ truck driver initiates a game of cards

Reasons for complacency

What had lulled the TRS government into a comfort zone initially was the assessment that, barring the Tablighi cluster, the state had not imported cases from anywhere else nor has there been any kind of community spread.

In Andhra, a major reason for Jagan’s inaction during the initial period of the outbreak was his obsession with shifting the capital to Visakhapatnam as soon as possible, and also his determination to quickly hold elections to the local bodies.

Moreover, there was no respite from vindictive politics. Despite the hardships faced by common people due to the lockdown, the YSR Congress government found itself embroiled in a bitter showdown with the State Election Commissioner (SEC) N Ramesh Kumar, seen as being close to the opposition Telugu Desam Party president and former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

The confrontation over the conduct of elections to urban and rural bodies had acquired political overtones, culminating in the unceremonious removal of the senior bureaucrat.

Scenario in Karnataka

In the initial stages of the pandemic, two ministers — Medical education minister K Sudhakar and Health Minister B Sriramulu — were at loggerheads over their roles in containing the pandemic.

Both sought to claim their share of success. However, it became bitter in two weeks and they began giving contradictory updates to the media. One tried to beat the other. Miffed with the rivalry and power struggle, Yediyurappa asked Deputy Chief Minister C.N. Ashwath Narayan to pitch in and help. He had his share of problems. Then, the education minister was called in to do the press briefing.

Much of it remains unresolved till date.

On one hand, the Chief Minister kept asserting that his government would take action against those speaking ill of the Muslim community and appealed to people to not victimise them.

However, the Minister in his own cabinet, including his own political secretary, and the BJP’s IT Cell were spreading hatred and fake messages. No action was sought nor were any orders issued to condemn their action.

Related news | Karnataka to bring back 10,823 people from abroad

In mid-April, Yediyurappa himself told a news organisation that had it not been for the rising number of cases related to the Tablighi Jamaat event in New Delhi last month and rising infections in the Mysuru pharmaceutical company cluster, the state would have topped in containing the outbreak. Yet again, his own office tried to blame Muslims.

In one of the containment zones in Bengaluru, a section of Muslims were on a rampage to vandalise police checkpoints after the government failed to supply required ration and created a sense of communal environment, largely led by regional media. In the midst of this, the Chief Minister remained a mute spectator. The ministers and police were moving suspected coronavirus patients from one prison to another in which time the virus spread among fellow members in the group.

Although way behind its neighbouring states like Kerala, the state’s COVID-19 recovery rate stood at 31.6 percent even as the national average was at 21 per cent. Kerala’s recovery rate stood at 73 per cent.

However, several of the non-COVID patients were refused treatment at government hospitals that were not having adequate staff to handle such cases.

Besides, the state could not settle scores with Kerala on the border closure issue, which was later taken to court. Even in handling the migrant workers issue, the state woke up late. Only after two weeks into the lockdown, helplines numbers were set up and the crisis was managed in coordination with civil society groups. Petitions were filed in the High Court seeking the government to respond to poor people’s demands.

Tamil Nadu

The Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami was not quick enough to respond to the COVID-19 challenge. From announcing the timings to buy essential things to collecting door-to-door samples, the government was slow in its response.

Overcoming the initial hiccups, it is now coping with the challenges.

The migrants are lodged in government shelters where they are provided with basic amenities.

Recently, the government imposed a full lockdown in five major cities including Chennai. The sudden announcement triggered overcrowding at markets and panic buying.

Related news | How a small town in TN with 70 COVID-19 cases fought it off

The government has allowed MGNREGA from April 16 and paid additional two days of wages as ‘COVID special allowance’. Moreover, it has paid ₹1,000 for all the ration card holders. Besides, it is providing rice, dal, and cooking oil to both registered and unregistered unorganised sector workers.

Isolation facilities, testing centres and COVID kiosks have been set up across the state. According to state health minister C Vijayabaskar, the state will soon to test 10,000 samples a day.

West Bengal

The Chief Minister, who has been on collision course with the NDA government on a plethora of issues, directed the police to enforce the lockdown with a “human face.”

The “soft-handling”, many believed, had led to crowding of people in market places in several localities. The union home ministry had taken serious note of the “dilution of the lockdown.”

Banerjee visited various localities of Kolkata herself, pleading with people to cooperate with the government by staying indoors. For four days in a row, she did “miking”, which drew criticism from the opposition BJP.

For stranded migrant labourers, a one-time payment of ₹1,000 has been announced under a scheme called ‘Sneher Parash’.

Banerjee on April 27 formed a cabinet committee to manage the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

Read More
Next Story