Amid rise in coronavirus cases, COVID-19 seems to have become a political issue in Bengal as opposition claims discrepancies in state figures and a top actor supports Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to “turn off lights for nine minutes at 9 pm” tonight in fight against “darkness of coronavirus pandemic”.
One of the state’s most celebrated actors – Rituparna Sengupta – was being wooed by the BJP for some time. The BJP over the weekend posted her video – endorsing PM’s call – on its WhatsApp media group.
The opposition party has also rolled up its sleeves against the Mamata Banerjee government. The hasty return to political skirmishes amid COVID-19 pandemic follows delay in civic polls, earlier scheduled for mid-April at multiple urban centres across the state. The local polls, which are not likely to be held anytime soon, were to act as a dipstick for the 2021 state elections in Bengal, now exactly a year away.
The BJP has questioned the state government over discrepancies in COVID-19 figures.
“Everybody does not have to know everything,” Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiv Sinha declared at his press conference on Saturday when asked why there were different figures being put out by state and centre. He was also questioned about the state’s missing bulletin over the last couple of days.
“We are giving figures people need. We are not hiding anything,” he said.
BJP leader Dilip Ghosh, however, has accused the Mamata Banerjee government of lying about the COVID-19 deaths. “We know what happened during dengue outbreak. The government instructed hospitals not to attribute deaths to dengue and government and private doctors were forced to comply,” the 55-year-old BJP leader said.
“No one is being fooled,” said another BJP leader, Debjit. ” But I want to remind the Chief Minister that this is not dengue. It is coronavirus outbreak and hiding figures can be dangerous for the people,” he added.
The COVID-19 figures came into question after the state-appointed medical task force held a press meet on Thursday and top doctors said that 53 coronavirus cases were reported in Bengal including seven deaths, four of these were reported within 24 hours.
Within the next hour, the Chief Secretary held a press meet and said the number of active cases in the state was 34 and not 53. And three people had died in Bengal due to COVID-19, not seven as stated by the task force.
The government did not deny the four additional deaths but said these people had died due to other illnesses like diabetes.
On Friday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while addressing the reporters, said that COVID-19 count was 38, up by four. But the same evening, the Ministry of health and Family welfare said 63 cases were recorded from Bengal.
On Saturday, the Chief Secretary put the number of those who had been infected by novel coronavirus at 49. But the centre put the figure at 68.
In reply to a question on discrepancies, Mr Sinha said he would talk to the health officials to review the figures they are sending to the central government.
The daily medical bulletin, after disappearing for two days on April 2 and April 3, was back on Saturday but in a different avatar. There have been no COVID-19 deaths in Bengal in April as per the state’s figures.
Amid these claims, a man died in a clash between villagers in Birbhum – about 180 km from Kolkata – on Saturday over turning a local school hostel into a quarantine centre. Birbhum is popularly known as a Trinamool-BJP battlefield and the clash may have been politically motivated.