New Delhi, Apr 19 (PTI) The politics over the COVID crisis in the country intensified on Monday as Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan issued a sharp rebuttal to Congress leader Manmohan Singh for his suggestions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on pandemic management, and blamed Congress-ruled states for the fresh surge in coronavirus cases by raising doubts about Indian vaccines.
The Union health minister also took a swipe at the former Prime Minister, saying, it was 'saddening' to see that Congress leaders and states ruled by the party do not seem to share his view, as they have taken extraordinary interest in spreading 'falsehoods' regarding coronavirus vaccines.
'History shall be kinder to you Dr Manmohan Singh ji if your offer of 'constructive cooperation' and valuable advice was followed by your @INC India leaders as well in such extraordinary times!' Vardhan tweeted, and posted on Twitter his letter to Singh.
Vardhan's sharp retort came a day after Singh's letter to Prime Minister Modi, suggesting five measures to battle the COVID-19 crisis, including ramping up vaccination and boosting the supply of medicines.
In his strongly-worded letter, the health minister also said those who drafted Singh's letter or advised him have done a great disservice to his standing by 'misleading' him regarding material that is already in public domain, and claimed that the Modi government had already taken decisions prior to similar suggestions made by the ex-prime minister. Slamming Vardhan, Congress leader and ex-Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan said,'it was expected that it (Singh's letter) would be taken in a positive way. But the way Harsh Vardhan has responded, I think he should apologise. The prime minister should attend to the handling of the COVID situation instead of campaigning in elections.' In his letter to Modi, the veteran Congress leader said one must not look at absolute numbers but the total percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, asking him to ramp up vaccination Without naming anyone, Vardhan, in his letter also denounced Congress-ruled states and the opposition party leaders, saying while Singh understands the importance of vaccination in fighting the pandemic but 'irresponsible' remarks of some Congress leaders have resulted in a below national average vaccination coverage of senior citizens and even front-line workers in these states.
While the country is witnessing a huge surge in COVID cases, forcing many states and UTs to impose restrictions, including lockdown and night curfews, a political blame-game is on with many non-BJP-ruled states accusing the Central government of not helping them adequately to deal with the pandemic crisis and the Union ministers accusing the state governments of playing 'petty politics'.
Reacting to criticism of the Modi government by the Maharashtra government, Union minister Piyush Goyal on Saturday tweeted that the state 'is suffering from an inept and corrupt government and the Centre is doing its best for the people. People of Maharashtra are following 'Majha Kutumb, Majhi Javabadari' dutifully. It is time the CM (chief minister) also follows his duties in the spirit of 'Majha Rajya, Majhi Javabadari'.' Using Singh's letter to attack the Congress, which on Saturday accused the Centre of 'colossal mismanagement' in the war against COVID and warned of an 'unprecedented catastrophe' unless urgent corrective measures are taken, Vardhan said its senior members are yet to utter a single word of gratitude towards scientists and vaccine manufacturers for innovating under trying circumstances and empowering the world with vaccines.
'Let alone thanking our scientists, many Congress members and Congress-ruled state governments have taken extraordinary interest in spreading falsehoods regarding the efficacy of these vaccines, thereby fuelling vaccine hesitancy, and playing with the lives of our countrymen.
'A sitting chief minister of your party created a dubious world record of sorts by being the only head of government directly inciting people against an indigenously developed vaccine! Some Congress leaders even shamed the vaccines in public but took their doses in private, quietly,' Vardhan alleged.
In his letter, he told Singh that a word of advice from him to them even if it had been done in private may have ensured better cooperation from these people.
'Knowing your penchant for constructive cooperation, which you have said you always believed in, I would assume that you did advise them and yet, quite clearly, your advice has been in vain,' the minister said.
Vardhan, however, acknowledged that the former prime minister's advice to not get tempted to go by absolute numbers but to go by percentage of population covered by vaccination is not incorrect.
However, he said this is a practice that must be followed uniformly and junior members of 'your party' too must follow your advice.
Quite obviously, it cannot be that the discussion on total cases, active cases or mortality is based on absolute numbers, which the Congress party often tries to do, but the vaccination numbers continue to be touted as a percentage of the population covered, he said.
With due respect, and 'irrespective of the negativity that your party spreads' Vardhan said he takes Singh's suggestions at face value and with the belief that they are made keeping national interest in mind.
Highlighting the pointin Singh's letter about allowing import of vaccines that have already been approved by credible foreign authorities, Vardhan said a decision on this had already been taken a week before his suggestions on April 11.
The same is the case with his suggestion regarding providing funds and other concessions to augment vaccine manufacturing.
This decision had also been taken many days before, and multiple vaccine manufacturing entities have been funded by the government to immediately enhance production, the health minister said.
'Anyway, despite such factual inaccuracies, we understand your deep concern for the country and also assure you that we share the same,' the minister said.
'We request your continued cooperation in the battle against the pandemic and welcome more such illuminating suggestions. However, as a senior leader, we expect that you shall offer the same advice and wisdom to your own party leaders as well,' Vardhan said. PTI PLB/KR SKC PYK PYK