A group of activists, academics, authors and journalists on Thursday wrote an open letter to Opposition parties, urging them to work together and step up “constructive action” to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and hold the central government accountable for its handling of the crisis.
“India is thirsty for a compassionate, consensual and cooperative leadership that truly works towards furthering peoples’ needs and aspirations,” the appeal to Opposition parties said. “We hope you will rise up to the occasion, for history will judge all of us for what we do next.”
The letter, signed by 187 individuals, said it endorses the joint letter written by 12 Opposition leaders to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month putting forward nine demands, which they said should be undertaken “on a war-footing” by the government.
“Despite the offer to cooperate and work with the Union government, it is shocking that the GoI [government of India] has neither welcomed the suggestions, nor created a truly national task force comprising of all parties, state governments, experts and civil society to tackle the unprecedented situation India is facing,” the letter released on Thursday stated.
Criticising the Centre’s handling of the pandemic, the signatories to the letter said that the government “seems to have reneged on its moral and constitutional responsibilities”.
The letter pointed out that the central government outsourced the procurement of vaccines to states, leading to their “differential and exorbitant rates”. On the distribution of Covid-19 relief material, the letter said that the Centre allocated them to states in a “partisan fashion” and that they were often stuck due to “bureaucratic delays”.
“What is especially nauseating is that amidst this chaos, there is an attempt to hide and obfuscate the gravity of the situation, while governments harass journalists and citizens for speaking the truth”.
The letter urged the Opposition parties to support the efforts of citizen and civil society groups in measures undertaken by them to deal with the coronavirus crisis. It asked the parties to prepare in advance for a possible third wave of the pandemic and arrange for temporary hospitals, ambulances, oxygen supplies and other equipment.
“While we would have ideally liked the government of India to take the lead in forming a National Task Force that could have implemented the suggestions outlined here [in the letter], the experience of the past few years have proved that it is very unlikely to do so,” the letter said, on why it was making an appeal to Opposition parties.
The signatories included academics Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee, Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib; economists Kaushik Basu, Prabhat Patnaik and Jayati Ghosh, activists Shantha Sinha, Harsh Mander and Wilson Bezwada; journalists TK Arun, Teesta Setalvad and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, among others.