New Delhi: Accusing the government of engaging in “denials, disinformation and diversions” on Chinese “intrusions” in Indian territory and mismanaging the matter, and alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on the issue stood in contradiction to the positions of the ministry of defence and external affairs, the Congress has asked the government about steps being taken to ensure the restoration of status quo ante at the border.
At a virtual meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party also strongly critiqued the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic — and said it had “abandoned” its responsibilities and had not unveiled a “coherent strategy”, even as the infection curve was rising “exponentially”. The main national opposition also accused the government of “profiteering” by “fleecing” citizens with the repeated increases in petrol and diesel prices.
The meeting, chaired by party president Sonia Gandhi, was attended by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former party chief Rahul Gandhi, all Congress chief ministers and senior leaders. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has rebutted the Congress’s criticism, and claimed that it was deriving “sadistic pleasure” from the India-China stand-off.
In her opening remarks, Sonia Gandhi said, “It is said ‘misfortunes do not come singly’. India has been hit by a terrible economic crisis, a pandemic of huge proportions and, now, by a full-blown crisis on the borders with China. Much of each crisis is attributable to the mismanagement of the BJP-led NDA government and the wrong policies pursued by it.” She added that the cumulative effect was “widespread misery, fear, and danger to the security and territorial integrity of the country”.
On the PM’s statement
On China, the Congress president, while hoping for mature diplomacy and decisive leadership in protecting India’s territorial integrity, critiqued the PM for his statement on Friday that there was no (external) presence in Indian territory. The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently clarified that his remark pertained to the situation in the Galwan Valley, where 20 personnel of the Indian army were killed in clashed on June 15.
Rahul Gandhi too critiqued the government on its China policy. He claimed that China had “brazenly” occupied Indian territory and accused the PM of destroying “our position” and betraying the army by accepting China’s position. “The Chinese can’t be permitted to get away with this unacceptable usurpation of our land.” He claimed that the PM had demolished the “institutional structure of Indian diplomacy”. Former PM Manmohan Singh told the CWC that the crisis on the border, which if not tackled firmly, can lead to a “serious” situation.
A formal CWC resolution said, “The Prime Minister’s statement has had far reaching implications. He cannot allow his words to be used by the Chinese as a vindication of their position, when it is clear that the brazen transgressions into our territory were committed by them.” It added that for China to make “audacious claims” over Indian territory, including Galwan Valley, by resorting to “unilateral and unprovoked acts of transgression and incursion” could not be tolerated or accepted.
The BJP hit back at the Congress for deriving “sadistic pleasure” from the ongoing India-China stand-off. “India has not surrendered an inch of its land, but the Congress has surrendered it shame,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
“Why is the Congress deriving sadistic pleasure by showing that India is not performing well? It is not only worrying, but also indicates a conspiracy,” he said, claiming that the stand-off with China was a “legacy issue”.
On the timing of the Congress’ critique, Sanjay Kumar, political analyst at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) said that both political parties had politicised the issue of national security. “I don’t consider it right that Congress is asking questions of government on China but this culture was started by BJP when it was in opposition. It didn’t start in last 6-7 days. There has been a deterioration in politics. We saw it in campaign and now in governance. Congress is also fighting its game for survival and they are looking for some opportunity to corner the BJP.”
On Covid-19 management
The Congress also put forth a detailed critique of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While lauding Corona warriors, the party said it was “astonishing” that the government had not unveiled a “coherent strategy” on “reducing fatalities, increasing testing, contact tracing and ensuring social distancing and safety for the most vulnerable population”. It alleged that there was no nationwide data on hospital beds and ventilators and that the PM-Cares fund was “severely under-utilised” and managed without transparency.
The party demanded that the government cap prices of treatment in private hospitals, ensure price control and easy availability of drugs, and impose penalties on defaulting insurance companies.
Sonia Gandhi said within weeks of the coronavirus lockdown, it was apparent that the government was totally unprepared to manage its fallout. “The result was the greatest humanitarian crisis witnessed since 1947-48. Millions of migrant workers, daily wage earners and self-employed were devastated. 130 million jobs are estimated to have been lost. Crores of MSMEs have been shut, perhaps forever,” Gandhi claimed. She added that a sliding economy is now hurtling toward a recession for the first time in 42 years. “I am afraid there will be high unemployment, falling incomes and wages, and lower investment.”
The BJP dismissed the criticism on the governments management of the pandemic. Patra said, “It is unfortunate that the Congress is doing politics of misfortune. India is capable to fight ‘C’ for Corona, ‘C’ for China and of course ‘C’ for conspiracies of Congress as well. We can fight all this and let me assure you India will emerge victorious of all the misfortunes that Sonia Gandhi was talking about.”
On fuel prices
The Congress also raised the issue of the fuel price hike, with the party president saying that the government had added “insult to injury by mercilessly” raising petrol and diesel prices for 17 consecutive days, at a time when world prices of crude have fallen.
In a resolution, the CWC said this unjustly enriched the government at the cost of people “struggling with rising unemployment, deep income shortfalls and significant salary cuts”. It demanded a rollback of the hike and passing the benefit of low oil prices directly to citizens.
The Congress is planning a nationwide agitation on the issue after oil companies on Tuesday hiked auto fuel rates for the 17th day in a row by 20 paise a litre and 55 paise respectively.