Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Sunday dismissed the government’s statements that an event organised by the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area has led to a big jump in coronavirus infections in India. However, the health ministry has consistently maintained that the convention propelled a surge of cases in the country.

“If the number of coronavirus patients in India has gone up only due to Jamaatis, then what about rest of the world,” Soren said in an interview to The Print. “Why is the situation so bad there?”

“Diseases and ailment do not differentiate on the basis of caste or religion,” Soren added. He claimed “mentally deprived” people were doing politics regarding the matter and spreading confusion.

Thousands of Indians and hundreds of foreigners had attended the Tablighi Jamaat conference on March 9 and 10. Many also fanned out across the country to recruit people after this, raising concerns about the scale of the potential spread of infection at the conference. Over 25,000 Tablighi Jamaat members and their contacts were quarantined in the country after the Centre and states launched a massive operation to trace them in the last week of March.

Ever since news broke that the convention held by the Tablighi Jamaat was a coronavirus hotspot, rumours about the spread of the infection have taken on a communal hue. Videos circulating on social media platforms have appeared to show Muslim men spitting on food, licking plates and sneezing in unison to spread the virus – all of these have been debunked as fake news. Even certain television channels and organisations like the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT Cell blamed Muslims for the spread of the virus.

Jharkhand’s first coronavirus case was related to the Nizamuddin event. So far, the state has reported 34 cases and two deaths.

Soren also acknowledged the low testing rates in his state, adding that the Centre should provide adequate assistance to intensify it. “The Centre’s nod is required to open new test centres,” he added. “Test kits and other necessary items are still arriving. In the time to come, we will be able to test a large number of people.”

He said Jharkhand’s condition will worsen once the lockdown restrictions are lifted. “ The central government should extend assistance for handling that crisis too,” the chief minister added. “Funding should be increased for MNREGA corpus. Here, we are not being able to give more than Rs 200 to the labourers under MNREGA, while several developed states are giving out as much as Rs 300 per day. This is why labourers do not stay in Jharkhand and migrate to other places. It is a different matter that we have not sought any special package from the Centre for this.”

On April 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the extension of the ongoing nationwide lockdown till May 3. However, he did not announce an economic revival plan or package for the migrant workers despite repeated requests from state chief ministers for urgent measures that could help them weather the crisis. The lockdown has left the workers stranded in several states, with no money, little food and even fewer options of leaving the places in which they are living.

Also read:

  1. India has taken notable steps to contain Covid-19 – but failed to curb surging anti-Muslim rhetoric
  2. Anti-Muslim prejudice doesn’t just endanger our ability to fight Covid-19 – it’s morally wrong
  3. Media watch: How vocabulary was weaponised to target Indian Muslims after the Tablighi Jamat event