Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday took a dig at the Narendra Modi government at the Centre for raising an alarm over a fresh Covid spike at a time when the Bharat Jodo Yatra of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was gaining momentum.
The JD(U) leader, who dumped the BJP four months ago to join the 'Mahagathbandhan', which includes the Congress, vowing to defeat the NDA by uniting the opposition ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls, was talking to journalists on the sidelines of a function here. "It should be known why they (the ruling BJP at the Centre) had become laidback over Covid, in the first place, and why they have certainly become vigilant now when the Congress people are taking out a yatra," Kumar said.
When pointed out that Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has called for ensuring Covid protocol at the yatra, or even putting off the same "in national interest", Kumar quipped, "That is what I am saying. Why do these people have an objection to that yatra? Why do they themselves keep taking out processions?"
The longest-serving Chief Minister of Bihar asserted that the Covid situation in the state was fully under control and the testing rate was never allowed to sag despite a sharp dip in incidence. "On many days, the state reports zero cases. Even on days when cases are reported, the tally is in a single digit. Nonetheless, we have kept up aggressive testing. The number of people tested for every 10 lakh of population is about eight lakh, which is far better than the national average of six lakh," he asserted.
"We never grew complacent. Of course, now since the place where it all started (China) has seen a sudden surge, so all are in a tizzy," remarked the chief minister when pointed out that a high-level meeting has also been convened by the Centre to discuss the latest surge. Kumar also joined his cabinet colleagues in criticising the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which has sent a team to Saran where a hooch tragedy had claimed close to 40 lives last week.
"I want to know whether they had ever bothered to send teams to other states where similar tragedies had taken place," said Kumar, evoking a vigorous shaking of the head from his deputy Tejashwi Yadav standing by his side, who had on the previous night lashed out at the Commission, accusing it of having become a part of the BJP's "propaganda" to "defame" the government in the state.
Repeating his "piyoge to maroge" (if you drink, you shall die) remark which has been dubbed as "insensitive" by his detractors, Kumar, however, toned down his rhetoric on "no compensation" for the family members of those who died after consuming spurious liquor.
"There is a provision in the prohibition law for compensating the victims with money recovered from those who are booked for having sold the liquor. This will take place in due course," he said. The opposition BJP had created a ruckus inside the assembly during the recent winter session in protest against the government's apparent refusal to grant compensation on the ground that drinking was illegal in the dry state.
Kumar also scoffed at the BJP for staging a dharna on the assembly premises in protest against the hooch tragedy. "They had been with us till a few months ago and they had then supported the government in whatever we did. Now that they are out of power they are busy finding faults. We need to be watchful of any mischief they might be encouraging," the CM added cryptically.
At Vidhan Sabha, Leader of Opposition in the state legislative council Samrat Chaudhary alleged that the government was "hiding the number of deaths" in Saran and sought an inquiry by a committee headed by a sitting judge of the High Court.
BJP legislature party leader Vijay Kumar Sinha alleged, "The Speaker remained partisan towards the ruling alliance, never accepted a single calling attention moved by us and interrupted whenever an opposition MLA rose to make a point."