Uddhav Thackeray commended for battle against of Covid-19 outbreakUpdated: Mar 30, 2020 22:19 IST
Over the past 21 days, since the state’s battle with coronavirus first began after a Pune-based couple tested positive, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, who is leading the state campaign from the front, has surprised many in the political circles in Maharashtra.
For a politician with no government experience, the Sena chief’s handling of the coronavirus challenge has so far been deft and responsive. Long before Delhi took note and ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 21-day lockdown for the nation, the Maharashtra government had set the ball rolling for a state-wide shutdown, but in a phased manner.
It started with the government shutting down cinema theatres, gyms, swimming pools on March 14, followed by malls, schools, colleges in urban areas. The government held meetings with corporates insisting on home from work, minimal attendance at work places and implementing the norm itself as it cut back on first 50%, then 75% and finally 95% of its staff.
By March 16, the Mumbai civic body was working with the airport authorities and putting hand quarantine seals in indelible ink on the hands of people returning from trips abroad and had started contact tracing to isolate possible patients.
On March 19, shops were asked to stay open on alternate days.
By the time the PM announced a lockdown, Maharashtra was already shutdown with offices and non-essential services closed (March 21) and a near-curfew situation barring people to step out except for essential services declared across the state (March 23). Since March 14, the Thackeray government has reviewed and taken incremental steps to deal with the crisis every day.
Through this, the 59-year-old chief minister’s trademark has been his public addresses, liked by a cross section of citizenry. In a calm demeanor, Thackeray candidly spells out the trials at hand along with measures taken by his government and their expectations from the people.
A key officer and part of the coronavirus task force set up by the government told HT, “The CM’s address to public has worked well because he speaks gently and is reassuring. He has also been very clear in his communication – about dos and dont’s – and frank about the current status of the outbreak.”
The officer, who did not want to be named, added, “Thackeray has also been very prompt. For instance, after there was panic leading to crowding in markets when the PM announced a lockdown, the CM took a decision that essential services outlets should be allowed to stay open 24x7 to reassure people. Before we got central government order about stopping migrants on Sunday, we had already set up 262 camps to provide them food and shelter.”
In his last public address via Facebook live, for instance, Thackeray admitted that outbreak in the state was at a stage when it would multiply and a spike in patients was on the cards. He said doctors should be on alert for patients with pneumonia-like symptoms and at the same time reassured citizenry saying this is not a doomsday scenario and there is no need to panic.
Until the coronavirus outbreak, the Thackeray government, a three-legged coalition between the Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was in the news for apparent contradictions within the allies on various issues from ideological to administrative.
However, in the current scenario, despite naysayers, the government seems to be on same footing.
“The government has shown maturity in handling the crisis. From day one, the CM seems to have understood the seriousness. He has also shown himself to be a team leader, who takes everyone along and doesn’t take the credit. So whether it is Tope, school education minister Varsha Gaikwad or food and civil supplies minister Chhagan Bhujbal, it seems like all hands are on the deck. He has managed political communication with the citizenry, his cabinet and administration well,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
At the core of the government’s response is the CM’s ability to put together a team of senior bureaucrats led by chief secretary Ajoy Mehta and including officers namely additional chief secretary Ashish Kumar Singh, principal secretary Bhushan Gagrani, public health secretary Pradeep Vyas to oversee the situation round the clock. Thackeray has recently put together a control room and a task force of bureaucrats to tackle coronavirus.
“I would say the government is doing a fine job. Its test will be in the coming days, but they know what they are doing. The response seems to be on right track,” said retired IAS officer Chandra Iyengar, who has headed the health and home departments in state administration.