Trinamool Congress uses Covid-19 lockdown to reverse electoral fortunes
Residents of New Alipore area in Kolkata woke up to a surprise on March 26 when they received WhatsApp messages from the local police station containing a list of grocery shops and their phone numbers. The police urged people to select a grocery shop from the list, order goods worth at least Rs 1,000 and send the order details to the police. The message said the police will pick up their order and deliver at their doorsteps.
“We did it to reduce crowding at markets and grocery shops. We roped in rickshaw-pullers, who had gone out of jobs, our staff and civic volunteers. We run 50 broadcasting groups on WhatsApp and spread the message through all members of these groups,” said Amit Shankar Mukherjee, inspector-in-charge of the New Alipore police station.
Gradually, other police stations started following. On March 28, the south suburban division of Kolkata police wrote on Twitter, “During #Lockdown all PSs raised hands to help elderly citizens by delivering food, medicine etc. at doorsteps. Don’t hesitate #Dial100.”
Less than a year after the Mamata Banerjee government in Bengal suffered a major electoral jolt in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the extraordinary situation over Covid-19 has offered the state administration an opportunity to reach out to the common people and the administration has swung into action.
The state-wide municipal elections, which were slated to be held in April, are expected to take place in May-June. The Assembly elections are due in just about a year.
The chief minister has been seen leading the entire battle from the front – attending regular meetings with administrative officers, the private health sector and even opposition parties--aired live on social media, visiting hospitals to boost the confidence of doctors and nursing staff, distributing food at night shelters and to rickshaw-pullers and addressing the people using social media.
The administration also played a pro-active role in issues concerning migrant workers. She was the first chief minister to write to counterparts in other states requesting to take care of state’s migrant workers stranded there. Chief secretary Rajiva Sinha spoke to his counterparts in all states to ensure the wellbeing of the migrant workers.
In Bengal, when a group of migrant workers got stranded in a district distant from their own, the administration arranged for special buses to ferry them home.
The Mamata government has announced free ration to 7.5 crore people (Bengal has a population of 9.13 crore) for six months, Rs 1,000 grant to workers in the unorganised sector and advance payment of two months’ social pension.
A chief minister who has often earned criticism for not heeding to anything that the opposition says, Mamata Banerjee was seen accepting most of the proposals given by opposition party leaders during an all-party meeting at the state secretariat.
The police proactively provided cooked food, dry food and grains to the poor and arranged ambulances for the ill. When a person informed the police that Bibha Saha, a senior citizen living in Sinthee area of north Kolkata, landed in trouble because her cook was not able to come, the police promptly issued a travel pass for her cook.
Besides, the firefighters are sanitizing hospitals and localities, municipalities and panchayats are carrying out awareness campaigns and the health-department staff, along with AASHA workers, are busy keeping a watch on those required to be in-home or institutional isolation.
“All fire stations have been asked to spray disinfectants where the public usually gathers such as markets and hospitals. Our men are also making rounds of localities and spreading awareness,” said Jagmohan, director-general of the fire brigade.
The role of the administration, the police and the chief minister is earning praise on social media.
“The chief minister’s role deserves praise. I cannot remember any other Bengal chief minister, except for our first chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy, who got engaged with disaster management at such a personal level,” said Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University.
Political analyst Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College, said, “Our state government has from the very beginning been very alert and active. The chief minister is actively monitoring the whole situation and advising people on a regular basis. It is good to see the state and Centre are working in smooth coordination,”
Even supporters of Left parties and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have praised her on social media.
“I may be a staunch opponent of Mamata Banerjee’s politics but I must praise her for dealing with the Covid-19 situation,” BJP supporter and blogger Sabyasachi Bhattacharjee wrote on Facebook.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra refused to criticise the government. “The chief minister is trying. The administration has listened to our suggestions. It’s time everybody stood together,” he said.
BJP state unit president Dilip Ghosh, however, indirectly said that the chief minister was resorting to “showmanship”. “One crore member of our party in Bengal will provide food for free to five crore poor people. But we will not publicise it. We prefer working without the limelight.” Ghosh said.