The Congress on Tuesday criticised the Centre for not instituting any welfare measures for the economically weaker sections, including the lack of a financial package, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus was being extended till May 3.

Congress leader P Chidambaram said the party was aware of the Centre’s compulsion in extending the lockdown. However, he added, the government had ignored the states’ demands to release more money to combat the virus, and accused it of leaving economically weaker sections of the society to fend for themselves.

“CMs’ demand for money elicited no response,” Chidambaram tweeted. “Not a rupee has been added to the miserly package of March 25, 2020. From [economists] Raghuram Rajan to Jean Dreze, from Prabhat Patnaik to Abhijit Banerji, their advice has fallen on deaf years [ears].”

Chidambaram added that the poor would now have to fend for themselves for 40 days of the lockdown by “soliciting food”. “There is money, there is food, but the government will not release either money or food,” he said. “Cry, my beloved country.” He claimed it is clear that the survival of the poor is not among the priorities of the government.

Congress leader and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi mocked Modi’s address, calling it short on specifics. “Amazing PM address,” he tweeted. “Exhortation, rhetoric, inspiration.....yet hollow on specifics! No financial package, no details, no concrete item. Neither for poor nor middle class nor industry nor businesses. Lockdown is good but cannot be end in itself! Where is single livelihood issue?”

He added that while people will follow Modi’s advice in wearing masks, boosting immunity, downloading the Aarogya Setu app, strictly adhering to the lockdown restrictions and helping the poor, there is no direction on what should be done after this. “Should we pray?” he asked.

The Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party also criticised the prime minister’s address. Shiv Sena Spokesperson Manisha Kayande said Modi could have announced extension of the lockdown on Wednesday, along with the new guidelines, instead of announcing them separately, PTI reported.

“He could have elaborated steps to be taken to tackle the coronavirus, relaxing restrictions on movements in different areas,” Kayande said. “His speech normally is more of a rhetoric than substance. Thankfully, he did not give any other event to the people like lighting up lamps or clanging utensils. There was nothing substantial, the only takeaway was the lockdown has been extended.”

Nationalist Congress Party Spokesperson Nawab Malik said that while Modi talked about helping the poor, he did not announce any financial package. Malik said those working in the unorganised sector have been worst affected by the lockdown.

Another Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson, Mahesh Tapase, said people expected Modi to make some announcement about measures to kick-start the economy. “The least to expect was the announcement of a slew of measures to kick-start the economy in a phased manner as and when the restrictions are lifted,” he said. “Access to capital for business, especially for MSMEs [Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises] and agriculture, is a big concern. Supply and logistics is the cornerstone of economic activity which has come to a virtual standstill.” Tapase said the economic forecast for 2020-’21 looks grim.

Union ministers praise Modi

Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah thanked Modi “wholeheartedly” for extending the lockdown, tweeting that the decision was taken in the interest of the people of India. He appreciated the cooperation the states had given to the Centre during the first 21-day period of the lockdown and said he hoped this will continue.

Shah assured the public that there was no shortage of essential commodities like medicines, food and other essential items in the country during the period of lockdown. Instead, he asked people to help the poor.

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also praised Modi’s decision to extend the lockdown, and added that the people should follow the seven suggestions the prime minister gave to help combat coronavirus.

India has so far recorded 10,363 cases of the coronavirus, including 339 deaths, 1,035 recoveries and one migration, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Globally, over 19.21 lakh people have been infected with the virus so far, and more than 1.19 lakh have died, according to an estimate by Johns Hopkins University.