Relief politics intensifies as Covid-19 woes mount

Pictures of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar on coronavirus relief material bags and sanitizers respectively spark fresh controversy

The pictures of Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh on the Covid-19 relief material bags and those of Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar on sanitizers leading to self-promotion has stirred up a row in the two states.

The Punjab Government has dispatched 15 lakh bags, each containing 10kg wheat flour, 2kg dal (lentils) and 2kg sugar, at a cost of 70 crores to the state exchequer. The material is packed in a bag having a picture of Capt Amarinder Singh in folded hands, with the tagline ‘A small effort of Punjab government to deal with Covid-19’. These bags are being supplied to 15 lakh families, which are not covered under the public distribution system (PDS). On paper a good gesture indeed, but there is not even an iota of doubt that it appears to be self-aggrandizement. In Punjab, there is the Congress government and it is the same party that had made a big issue when during the erstwhile BJP-Akali Dal government, the government had used pictures of former CM, Parkash Singh Badal on all government ambulances.

In the neighbouring Haryana, sanitiser bottles bearing pictures of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala are being distributed as relief during coronavirus.

Reacting to various reports in this regard going viral on social media, Khattar tweeted, “Meri foto lage hue hand sanitiser ka maamla meri jaankari mein aaya hai. Coronavirus jaisi aapda ke samay mein jab samaaj ekjut hokar lar raha hai tab aise vishyon par charcha karne ka koi auchitya nahi hai. Is prakaar ke karya ko main uchit nahi samajhta. Satark rahein, surakshit rahein (I have learnt about hand sanitisers bearing my pictures. At a time when society is fighting the pandemic together, there is no significance in discussing such issues. I do not consider such a thing correct. Stay alert, stay safe)”.

Chief Minister Khattar also tweeted on the matter,”The matter of my photo on a hand sanitiser has come to my notice. At a time when the entire nation is together in this fight against coronavirus, there is no use in discussing such things…” Asked to comment on it, Haryana’s Home Minister Anil Vij observed said, “Neither I have seen it, nor I have any information who has manufactured it. I have no knowledge of it”.

Reacting to pictures of Capt Amarinder Singh on relief packets, Leader of opposition in Punjab Assembly and AAP MLA Harpal Singh Cheema said, “The CM and his cabinet colleagues have failed on all fronts during the past three years and they are trying to take political mileage through Covid-19 relief.” He also alleged discrimination in distribution of relief material at the village level, saying a large number of needy families are being ignored.

“While opposition MLAs are not allowed to leave home, Congress ministers and legislators are distributing the relief material in bags having picture of CM to their supporters. It’s not a social service, but self-promotion by the CM at the cost of tax payers’ money in the time of pandemic,” said Cheema.

Shiromani Akali Dal termed as “very unfortunate” photos of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on bags containing relief material of atta, dal and sugar and on sanitiser bottles being distributed among the people during the curfew and lockdown.

Shiromani Akali Dal leader Daljit Singh Cheema said there was no need to waste precious time and delay distribution of essential items by packaging them with the chief minister’s picture. “There will be many opportunities to put the CM’s picture on a variety of things, but in today’s crisis, such actions should be avoided.” Cheema alleged “time was wasted” in printing the photos of CM on relief material bags and sanitiser bottles. “This clearly showed the intention of the government that the priority is not providing relief, but doing politics.”

Food and civil supplies minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu justified the move, saying: “The CM’s picture is needed to differentiate the Covid-19 relief material. The state is also distributing atta-dal under the PDS. DCs are distributing ration from money released under CM’s relief fund. A picture is needed to differentiate the Covid-19 relief material, so that it is not used under PDS. If all material is distributed in similar packets, there are chances of bungling as someone can raise bills of this material under PDS.”

Hours after photos of a hand sanitiser manufactured by a distillery with pictures of the leaders went viral on social media. Posting a picture of the hand sanitiser on his Twitter handle, Congress’ chief spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “Respected Khattarji & Dushyantji, during the crisis created by coronavirus, can’t you look beyond cheap politics & self-promotion.” To meet the surging demand of hand sanitisers in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, the government had asked some distilleries to manufacture these.

Criticizing, Haryana CM, newly elected Rajya Sabha Member, Deepender Hooda accused the BJP-JJP government in Haryana of trying to derive political mileage out of the COVID-19 pandemic as photographs of hand sanitiser bottles bearing pictures of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala went viral on social media.

“Even during a national health emergency, these leaders of the state are busy milking it for their political motives. The decision to put labels with Khattar and Chautala’s photos led to further delay in distributing sanitisers to the people, especially at a time when they have been hit hard by an acute shortage,” Hooda said. He further said, “I have credible information that the distillers making these sanitizer bottles were forced to put stickers with these pictures and they were threatened that if they do not do so, their stocks shall not be lifted. This pressure from the government led to a delay of at least two-three days, especially when even the printing press are also closed these days.”

“Ever since this crisis hit our nation and Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the entire nation to stand together in the fight against this pandemic, you can see the Congress party’s or my own response. We tried our best to support the government, be it in raising resources, creating awareness or appealing to people to follow each and every instruction issued by the government. But this kind of a political propaganda…that too during a health emergency, is not correct,” Hooda said.

“BJP-JJP thinks this it is not a health emergency but their political rally. They are deriving political mileage out of this health emergency. After hand sanitisers, now will politicians’ pictures be pasted on face masks?” the Congress leader tweeted, tagging a picture of a hand sanitiser bottle bearing pictures of Khattar and Dushyant.

To use disease for own promotion is the ugly face of politics,” the Rajya Sabha member said. He wondered whether the leaders’ photos will now appear on face masks. “After sanitisers, will the leaders photos appear on masks. This sanitiser bottle will for years remind the people of the insensitivity of the BJP-JJP,” tweeted Deepender. “It is no time for politics, but service,” he added.