Mixed result: How chief ministers handled the pandemic challenge

Since every crisis serves as a test for leadership skills, the coronavirus pandemic too held a mirror to the performance of various chief ministers and their ability to deliver under pressure

chief ministers, coronavirus, COVID-19, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh
The ongoing battle against the pandemic has thrown up a mixed performance from states in terms of checking the spread of the disease, effective enforcement of the lockdown, and protecting the interests of the poor and vulnerable sections.

A paracetamol is enough to tackle coronavirus. These viruses come and go. How can we postpone elections on this ground? Take a paracetamol and move on. Coronavirus panic is a ploy to divert attention from Delhi riots.

As bizzare as they might sound, surprisingly, these were not the initial reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic of random people but the chief ministers of several states.

Since every crisis serves as a test for leadership skills, the coronavirus pandemic too held a mirror to the performance of various chief ministers and their ability to deliver under pressure.

The ongoing battle against the pandemic has thrown up a mixed performance from states in terms of checking the spread of the disease, effective enforcement of the lockdown, and protecting the interests of the poor and vulnerable sections.

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Kerala’s has been a standout performance. It has flattened the curve, thanks to a combination of factors including early detection, increased testing, aggressive contact tracing, quarantine and isolation, a robust primary health care system with a strong network of healthcare workers and efficient political leadership.

Maharashtra opted for aggressive testing and created highest number of containment zones in cities, followed by Uttar Pradesh that ensured the virus is restricted to 41 of the 75 districts, and Bihar focusing more on isolating migrant workers while West Bengal terming its plan as containment with “humane face”.

Some other states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were found to be lax in their response initially but later pulled up their socks and ramped up screening and testing efforts.

Bhilwara in Rajasthan has set an example for the rest of the country when it became the first district to stop new infections within a span of less than two weeks. A brilliant containment strategy, executed with clockwork precision, immaculate coordination, and extreme efficiency, was at the core of the Bhilwara model.

Telugu states’ paracetamol prescription

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart YS Jagan Mohan Reddy initially sought to make light of the COVID-19 threat with both of them prescribing paracetamol as the solution.

KCR chose the floor of the Assembly to dismiss the alarmist media reports in the first week of March, saying a simple dose of Paracetamol will control the virus. Jagan repeated the same a few days later. He was even angry with the State Election Commission for postponing the elections to local bodies indefinitely citing pandemic threat.

“This is a kind of virus that comes and goes. How can we stop elections? Life cannot come to a halt,” Jagan had wondered and later went on to remove the state election commissioner, Ramesh Kumar, for refusing to toe the government’s line.

However, as the number of coronavirus positive cases started mounting, the two chief ministers came out of their comfort zones, announced lockdowns and relief measures for the vulnerable sections and ramped up health infrastructure in their states.

Related news: Casual approach to pandemic blunts COVID-19 fight in Telugu states

For KCR, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. While announcing the lockdown, he threatened to issue a ‘shoot at sight’ order for lockdown violators.

Aggressive testing is certainly not on the radar of the Telugu States. KCR has been arguing that an overwhelming majority of the coronavirus cases in the state can be attributed to the delegates who attended the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in New Delhi last month or their contacts like immediate family members and relatives.

“If the Nizamuddin event had not happened, Telangana would have remained a completely safe zone,” the chief minister said.

On his part, Jagan contends that the extension of the lockdown must be confined to the hot spots while in other areas the economic activity must be resumed.

However, both the Telugu states did commendably well on the issue of providing safety net for the poor in the face of lockdown.

Telangana government announced an immediate financial assistance of ₹1,500 per family to purchase essential items in the state and 12 kg free rice to each poor family while Andhra promised free ration, including rice and tur dal, and ₹1,000 one-time cash assistance to each poor family.

Yediyurappa’s self-promotion

Even as the state scrambles to increase the COVID-19 tests and hospital staff are anxious about the availability of test kits in the wake of rising cases, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa is on a different trajectory toying with people’s trust in the wake of nation-wide shutdown.

His antics, much on the lines of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were high on tokenism and low on substance.

Earlier this month, he announced to donate his entire year’s salary to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund COVID-19.

Days later, he issued a statement to a TV channel saying the state would act against those talking ill of the entire Muslim community for isolated incidents like that of Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi.

And yet again, he put out a photo of himself feeding a cat and asked peopled to feed stray animals.

Related news: Karnataka COVID-19 in-charge minister posts pool photos, faces flak

Good that the CM made some right decisions. But under his party’s nose, some BJP leaders were spreading islamophobia and blaming the entire Muslim community for the Jamaat fiasco. He did not seek any action against them.

Even as he fed the cat, his administration denied permissions to several of the pet food supply stores across the state and that did not get addressed.

People who toiled to build the city, the migrant workers who worked for the Bengaluru Metro Rail Project, have not been paid salary since February.

Those living in slums, still eagerly waiting for the promised ration supply that the CM assured in the wake of shutdown, are yet to see the light of the day.

Even as his two cabinet ministers — Health Minister B Sriramulu and Medical Education Minister Dr K Sudhakar fought over taking responsibilities on the COVID-19 crisis — the CM acted as if nothing was amiss. He directed the education minister to brief the media instead of the two ministers who were actually involved in monitoring the crisis.

The state tested merely 131 samples per million population. In contrast, its neighbouring state Kerala was testing 400 people per million. Three times higher. Besides, the recovery rate and mortality rate stood at 17.29 percent and 2.80 per cent while it was 33.79 percent and 0.5 percent in Kerala.

Related news: COVID-19: TN extends lockdown till April 30 

Karnataka lagged behind all other southern states in the mortality rate.

Opposition Congress leader and former CM Siddaramaiah accused the BJP of misusing the state funds to promote the RSS-like organisations.

The burden of food supplies in many places are assigned to organisations belonging to the RSS. “Looks like the government is out of its way to help these organisations with the ₹8,000 crore set aside for Karnataka Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board,” Siddaramaiah said in a tweet.

Tamil Nadu

There has been a steady rise in the number of coronavirus positive cases in the state. The criticism against Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami is that he has been indecisive. Even as a committee of medical experts had last week recommended extension of the lockdown in the state, the CM dithered on the issue with the decision finally announced only around afternoon of April 13.

A 19-member experts’ panel, constituted by the government to track the spread of COVID-19, had recommended extension of the lockdown by two weeks.

Mamata’s micro-management

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been pro-active in handling the pandemic fallout, though she had her share of follies in the initial stage of the virus outbreak. On March 4, she had alleged that the attempt to spread coronavirus panic was a ploy to divert the public attention from Delhi riots.

However, she quickly realised the seriousness of the issue on hand and set out micro-managing the state’s response to the new challenge.

Related news: Kolkata students step in COVID fight, provide relief materials to labourers

Creation of a ₹200-crore fund to tackle the health crisis, insurance coverage of ₹5 lakh each for the state’s 10 lakh government medical staff, free ration for over 7.5 crore ration card holders and a one-time grant of ₹1,000 to unorganised workers were some of the measures taken by the government, which received wide appreciation.

Maharashtra

Unlike most other states, Maharashtra has been focusing on rapid testing and creation of containment zones in Mumbai, its adjacent areas, and Pune which accounted for 90 per cent of the total positive patients and 91 per cent of total fatalities.

The state now has over 400 containment zones, including 381 in Mumbai alone, highest for any city in India. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has divided these containment zones into three categories — red with more than 5-6 patients, yellow up to six patients and green with no cases.

Uttar Pradesh

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath drew flak for participating in a religious event amid social distancing protocols and a nationwide lockdown. He attended a function to mark the shifting of the idol of Lord Ram to a temporary structure in the Ram Janmabhoomi compound in Ayodhya.

Related news: No essentials for people without masks in UPs Balrampur

His action went against his own appeal to the public not to participate in any gatherings as part of a social distancing protocol.

The state has now adopted a multi-pronged strategy of aggressive identification of hotspots, intensification of restrictions and creation of new health facilities combined with relief to people, according to the state chief secretary RK Tiwari.

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