Public health far too serious issue to play politics on: Congress

Accusing the government of selectively picking on the Bharat Jodo Yatra over Covid concerns, the Congress on Wednesday pointed to the BJP taking out marches in Karnataka and Rajasthan, and asserted public health is far too serious an issue to play party politics on.

The assertion by the Congress came after Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, citing concerns raised by three BJP MPs over the spread of coronavirus, urged Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to consider suspending the Bharat Jodo Yatra if adherence to Covid protocols cannot be followed.

In a statement, Congress general secretary (communications) Jairam Ramesh said the Union health minister has written to Gandhi on the basis of a letter sent to him by a BJP MP from Rajasthan who alleges that Bharat Jodo Yatra has not been following Covid protocols.

“This MP’s letter was sent following the enormous success of Bharat Jodo Yatra in his state,” Ramesh said.

“Parliament is meeting normally. Masks are no longer compulsory anywhere including on flights. The BJP has taken out yatras in Rajasthan and Karnataka. There has been no advisory from the Centre to states of late except the one issued yesterday on genome sequencing,” he said.

Ramesh also underlined that in March 2020, the Modi government allegedly “delayed” imposition of lockdown by at least a week to enable the toppling of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh.

“Public health is far too serious a issue on which to play party politics. If there is a protocol for gatherings Bharat Jodo Yatra will abide by it undoubtedly,” he said.

Speaking with reporters in Haryana’s Nuh, Ramesh said, “I can understand that the BJP is afraid and is in trouble after seeing the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.”

“Please announce Covid protocols, we will all follow Covid protocols.”

Ramesh also said Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan’s communication to states asking them to ensure genome sequencing of all positive cases was neither an “advisory nor a warning”. However, the minister wrote to Gandhi, said Ramesh.

“If it is a serious issue adjourn Parliament, make wearing masks compulsory in flights and put a ban on all public gatherings,” asked Ramesh.

Stressing that the yatra had received huge public response in Rajasthan, the Congress leader said there should be any double standards.

In March 2020, the Congress demanded that a lockdown be imposed but the government did not do so because efforts were on to topple the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, he alleged. As the government fell, the lockdown was imposed, he said.

He asked the BJP to hold discussions and speak to the opposition on the matter.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also reacted sharply to Health Minister Mandaviya’s letter. “This letter clearly shows that the BJP’s aim is to disturb the Bharat Jodo Yatra fearing increasing public support,” he tweeted.

Also speaking with reporters in Nuh, Congress’ media department head Pawan Khera pointed to the lack of restrictions in public transport and asked the government to announce Covid protocols, also asserting that the party would follow them.

“We are wondering why a similar letter was not sent to the president of BJP in Rajasthan Satish Punia who is carrying out a Janakrosh Yatra there. We understand there is not much of a response to that Janakrosh Yatra, there are no people there,” Khera told reporters in Haryana’s Nuh after the yatra entered Haryana from Rajasthan earlier this morning.

“We also understand that there is a huge response across the country to the Bharat Jodo Yatra and there is a lot of crowd here,” he added.

Khera pointed out that the BJP was taking out yet another yatra in Karnataka.

“Has the health minister also sent this letter to the Karnataka BJP. We want to know. Today, if you were to travel by air, nobody will ask you to wear a mask or use a sanitiser,” he said.

Why has the government of India, he asked, not introduced stringent measures in public transport.

Khera went on to pose a series of questions.

“Why just Rahul Gandhi, why just Congress party, why just Bharat Jodo Yatra? Have they postponed the Parliament or is the Parliament still in session? If physical Parliament can take place, if the Janakrosh Yatra can take place, if the BJP yatra in Karnataka can take place, if there is no mask compulsory in air travel, why are you picking on Rahul Gandhi and Bharat Jodo Yatra…”

“Please announce Covid protocols, we will all follow Covid protocols,” he said.

In his letter addressed to Gandhi and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Mandaviya said three MPs from Rajasthan — P P Chaudhary, Nihal Chand and Devji Patel — had flagged concerns. They requested him that Covid protocols, including the use of masks and sanitisers, be strictly followed during the march and only those who are vaccinated be allowed to participate.

The MPs have also requested the Union minister to ensure that participants are isolated before and after taking part in the march.

The yatra entered Haryana on Wednesday from Rajasthan on Wednesday morning.

The Yatra, a mass contact initiative of the Congress, started from Kanyakumari on September 7 and has covered Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

It will enter Delhi on December 24, and after a break of about eight days, move on to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and finally, Jammu and Kashmir.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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