Accusing the government of selectively picking on the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Thursday said its letter to Rahul Gandhi over following Covid protocols in the march was based on concerns raised by three BJP MPs and not on advice of experts or scientists.
His statement came after Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday wrote to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to consider suspending the yatra if Covid protocols could not be followed. The yatra, which began in Kanyakumari on September 7 and will conclude in Kashmir, is in Haryana, after covering Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Congress general secretary in-charge communications Ramesh said, "If there is advice of experts or any protocol is to be followed on the advice of any medical health, public health or scientific institution, it becomes our responsibility to follow that. We will oppose a political protocol but not a scientific protocol."
He said Mandaviya in his letter to Gandhi cited concerns raised by three BJP MPs over the spread of coronavirus. "The letter is not based on any scientific advise or advice from experts, but on basis of letters of MPs, and the health minister suddenly writes to Rahul Gandhi," Ramesh said.
He asserted that each "Bharatyatri" taking part in the yatra is fully vaccinated and "many have also got a booster dose". "There has not been a single case of Covid in the Bharat Jodo Yatra so far," he said. Targeting the BJP, Ramesh told a press conference that politics is being played on a serious public health issue. This is being done since the Covid outbreak in the country in 2020, he said, adding politicisation of such a matter is wrong and the government is "selectively picking" on the yatra.
Parliament (which is in session) should be adjourned if the situation is serious, wearing of masks should be made mandatory and international flights stopped, he said. "Stop import from China, but you are not ready to do so because Chinese companies help you...," he alleged. China and other countries are seeing a surge in cases of coronavirus.
The Congress leader also attacked Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, saying its the BJP's "B" team. He said, "Understand the chronology". The Union health minister has written to Gandhi, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal review the Covid situation just days before the Bharat Jodo Yatra enters Delhi, Ramesh said.
Prime Minister Modi reviewed the situation related to Covid-19 in the country at a high-level meeting on Thursday. The Congress leader said that "a big leader of our country had said 'aap chronology samjhaye' and today I want to make you understand this chronology".
"Four cases of Omicron sub-variant BF.7 driving the Chinese surge were reported in Gujarat and Odisha in July, September and November," he claimed. "Over three months have passed since this yatra started. The Union health minister writes a letter to Rahul Gandhi... Prime minister is reviewing the situation today. Now, understand the chronology, Bharat Jodo Yatra will enter Delhi day after. Tomorrow, we will be in Faridabad district and in Delhi a day after that," Ramesh said.
There was no review in July, September or November. But just two days before the yatra is to enter Delhi, a review meeting is being held, he alleged. The BJP's "B" team that is "the Delhi chief minister is also summoning an "emergency meeting (on Covid)", Ramesh said. "If Bharat Jodo Yatra has to be stopped, what is the need for two (meetings)...one could do...We know why this is being done. The yatra enters Delhi on Saturday and after one day there, there is nine-day halt," he said.
He said there is attempt to build a narrative that Covid is again going to spread. These irresponsible people are not stopping the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Between December 24 to January 2, there is a break in the yatra anyway," Ramesh said. "The serious health matter is being politicised by the prime minister and the Delhi chief minister," he said.
"Kumbh Mela was allowed, then there was no intervention. In February (2020), Namaste (former US president Donald) Trump event was held in Ahmedabad, there was no restriction on that. In March 2020, I am witness, many MPs came wearing masks and Chairman in Rajya Sabha said wearing mask here is 'varjit' (forbidden)," the Congress leader said.
"We all said that the situation is serious, there is a need to act, impose lockdown. But for one week, Modi government remained silent. Why? Because it was busy in bringing down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh," he said. He said the nationwide lockdown was imposed soon after Shivraj Chauhan became the Madhya Pradesh chief minister. "So, right from the first day itself, it (public health matter) is being politicised," he alleged.