Maharashtra on the brink of Covid19 abyss

The Covid-19 situation in Maharashtra, and especially the country’s financial capital Mumbai, is looking increasingly bleak. With 2916 total cases in the state, Mumbai alone has seen close to 2000 cases and over 100 dead from the virus.

Disturbing scenes of crowded streets and people defying lockdown have been filtering in for many days now from various parts of Mumbai and indeed the whole state. Even ‘containment zones’ in Mumbai are seeing free passage of people. Yesterday, after the PM announced extension of nation-wide lockdown till 3 May, a huge crowd of Muslim migrant workers gathered outside a mosque (Sunni Jama Masjid) bang opposite to Bandra railway station in Mumbai, demanding trains to travel back home to Bihar and West Bengal.

The video below shows a community worker addressing the crowd, commiserating with them and asking them to bear being away from their families for some more time as this problem ‘from Allah’s side’ has gripped the entire world. One man half gets up to say, “This is from Modi’s side, not Allah..” but he is quickly hushed up.

The frustration and home-sickness of migrant workers is genuine. There are others too in the same situation, students and others separated from their families due to the lockdown. And workers are getting restive in other places too like Surat in Gujarat.

But such a huge gathering of migrant workers, right on dot after the PM’s announcement, looks orchestrated for several reasons. One, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray had announced extension of lockdown in the state till 30 April on Saturday itself, i.e. 3 days back – why didn’t the migrant workers spill out then? None of the workers seem to be carrying any luggage, belying the narrative that they had gathered at the station expecting special trains run.

New evidence has emerged that politician Vinay Dube, who contested the 2012 UP assembly election as an  NCP candidate and then joined hands with MNS-NCP combine while contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as an independent candidate from Kalyan, had been instigating migrant workers to break the lockdown and amass at railway stations in Mumbai. Dube also took part in the anti-CAA Shaheen Bagh protests. We leave it to readers to decide if a small-time politician like Dube will do something like this without blessing of higher-ups.

The CM’s son, who is also MLA from Worli, seized the migrant issue to train the guns on the centre, but ended up contradicting his own earlier statements.

Maharashtra HM Anil Deshmukh justified the mass migrant gathering in Bandra by making the bizarre statement – “People stuck in Mumbai were expecting that lockdown will end & they’ll be allowed to go home but they were disappointed with PM’s address & their anger burst out on streets of Bandra”. When his state had already extended its lockdown till 30 April, how and why did the HM allow thousands to gather in Bandra in ‘expectation’ of something?

After the state government was read the riot act by the Central government to get their act together, HM Deshmukh seems to have kicked into action. Vinay Dube has been arrested. The HM stated yesterday that “misinformation regarding commencement of trains from April 14 was spread using 11 different methods. The accounts have been tracked, FIRs are being filed & due legal consequences will follow”. A journalist with Marathi news channel ABP-Majha, Rahul Kulkarni (also known as a clone of the pro-Congress Lutyens’ journalist Ravish Kumar), has been arrested for spreading misinformation about trains being restarted.

State Health Minister Rajesh Tope has also not inspired much confidence with statements like asking private doctors to open their clinics even if they did not have PPE kits or N95 masks.

Hushing up the Tablighi Jamaat & “single-source” impact

The Tablighi Jamaat event in New Delhi has been a super-spreader across the nation, and Maharashtra is no different. Although the Maharashtra government has not been following global norms on publishing separate data on clusters, there is enough evidence to suggest that the Jamaat event has contributed significantly to Covid19 cases here too –

  • On 13 April, Maharashtra recorded 352 Covid-19 cases, 50 of which were linked to the Jamaat event.
  • At least 6 contacts of Tablighi Markaz attendees tested coronavirus positive in Nagpur
  • Cases from Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum located in Mumbai, have also seen a Jamaat connection.
  • HM Deshmukh has himself admitted that atleast 50 Tablighis are ‘untraceable’ in the state having switched off their phones.
  • A senior police inspector who led the operation to apprehend 21 foreign Tablighi members – 13 Bangladeshi and 8 Malaysian – from Muslim-majority Mumbra town in Thane district has now tested positive for Covid-19. The 21 foreigner preachers had travelled to Tamil Nadu after the Delhi event and then to Mumbra in Maharashtra and had been in hiding since then in a mosque and a school. Despite government advisory and appeal, they did not appear before the authorities. Police had also registered cases against the mosque and school trustees for giving shelter to the foreign nationals and not informing authorities.

Apart from this, the state has witnessed the usual resistance from Muslim-majority areas to health screening, Coronavirus surveys and lockdown restrictions.

AIMIM MLA from Malegaon, Maulana Mufti Ismail, attended the Nizamuddin Markaz and despite reportedly being in quarantine, has been attending public functions. The same MLA and his goons had earlier assaulted hospital doctors and staff.

Apart from Malegaon, Mumbra and Dharavi, some other Corona hotspots in the state too are Muslim localities – Islampur-Sangli cluster consists mainly of Saudi-returned pilgrims & their contacts, residents of Satranjipura in Nagpur have not been cooperating with civic authorities and a local MLA has demanded Army be deployed there.

Despite all this, what has been uppermost in the minds of Maharashtra’s secular leaders has been to lecture people not to ‘communalize’ the issue –

  • CM Uddhav Thackeray set the tone by warning people who want to spread ‘communal hatred’ by ‘blaming Muslims’.  A PR agency allegedly hired by his son has ensured a glut of messages hailing him as the ‘best CM’ from secular-liberal and the Bollywood celebrities.
  • NCP supremo Sharad Pawar has asked TV channels not to show references to Tablighi Jamaat or the Nizamuddin event in their coverage of the pandemic. He also tweeted the same after tagging the PM. When there is an urgent need to make Tablighi Jamaatis come forward and stop endangering their own and others lives, the senior-most leader of the Maharashtra coalition govt. is demanding that Jamaat violators be swept under the carpet? Remember, this is the same man who as Union Home Minister after the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts deliberately lied to the nation by falsely including a Muslim area (Masjid Bunder) as one of the bombed sites, to ‘seucularize’ the Islamic terror attack. He even tried to deflect blame on the LTTE, without any evidence of their involvement.
  • Maharashtra Health Minister Tope also found time to be politically correct during the raging crisis. He invited invited a delegation of senior Jamaat leaders and, instead of asking them to ensure cooperation from their members, assured them that the plans of some ‘anti-social elements’ who are trying to create ‘communal disharmony’ by running propaganda against them (Jamaat) will not be allowed to succeed.

Hounding Hindus

Aurangabad police thought it fit to arrest a doctor, Sambhaji Govind Chitale, for a social media post which shared Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Saad’s photograph along with the caption ‘“Wanted, please inform your local police if you have any input about location of this terrorist”.  Saad has been absconding since 28th April and has just been booked by the Delhi Police for culpable homicide.

NCP strongman MLA from Mumbra-Kalwa constituency of Thane and Maharashtra Housing Minister, Jitendra Awhad, had a civil engineer, Anant Karmuse, assaulted by his goons for sharing an ‘objectionable’ post opposing Awhad’s call to boycott PM Modi’s request to light a lamp on April 5. Now, even Karmuse’s wife is being harassed by the Maharashtra admin.

14 persons associated with Awhad have tested positive for Covid-19, including constables in his security team, party workers and house help. Even Awhad had initially tested positive for the virus before subsequent tests came negative, as per Thane’s NCP corporator Milind Patil.

Now, watch this video report where Jitendra Awhad can be seen addressing his constituents in Mumbra & Kalwa. In desperation, Awhad says, “Stop loitering around…If you don’t value your life, if you just want to die then throw a dawat (feast) calling 1000 people and get it over with. Do you know there is no space left for burials in kabrastan (graveyard)? This is how angry God (Allah) is with you. I have been shouting for 15 days to stay home, but no one is listening..young people are roaming on bikes without masks. If you still don’t understand, no one can save this city”

However much the ‘secular’ leaders may want to hide reality from the ‘communal majority’, they know how 70 years of molly-coddling by the secular state & indoctrination by radical mullahs has bred total contempt for laws & authority among the minority.

Experienced ‘secular’ leadership?

The Government in Maharashtra is run by the MVA coalition consisting of Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress. The coalition boasts of 3 ex-CMs of Maharashtra: Sharad Pawar, Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chavan and a host of other heavy-weight politicians. So even if CM Uddhav is inexperienced in administrative work, why aren’t the others stepping up in this time of crisis?

Rather, we are seeing the usual scheming, behind-the-scenes politicking, corruption and petty ego tussles that have come to define such secular coalitions for the last 25 years.

Blowing the MVA govt. claims to smithereens, Congress MLA Zeeshan Siddique has said that government did not provide any food to the migrant workers. The Government’s move to provide 5 kg of free rice promised by the Centre for ration card-holders, only after people buy their regular quota of grains, was also criticised by many.

In another massive embarrassment for the MVA, members of the the scam-accused Wadhawan family were found vacationing in their Mahabaleshwar farmhouse along with 21 other people, after obtaining a ‘special pass’ to defy the lockdown citing ‘family emergency’ from a senior state bureaucrat – Amitabh Gupta, Principal Secretary, Home Department. In the PMC Bank scam, Wadhawan family links with controversial billionaire NCP leader Praful Patel have emerged.

Now, Maharashtra’s public works department minister Ashok Chavan and Maharashra Congress president and revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat have addressed a press conference alleging a ‘political conspiracy’ behind the migrant gathering in front of the Bandra mosque. Incidentally, there were reports that Chavan and NCP leader Chaggan Bhujbal (ex-deputy CM, currently holding food and civil supplies portfolio) had argued over who would sit in a chair close to the CM  at the first cabinet meeting of the new Maharashtra govt. We have already seen how Sharad Pawar is more pre-occupied with preventing a bad name for the Tablighi Jamaat, than anything else.

The harsh reality is that today Maharashtra stands on the brink. The expertise of people at the helm of affairs in the state is in political manipulation, not efficient administration which is the need of the hour. Already, many in Mumbai have been calling for Army to be deployed in certain areas to enforce lockdown. The clock is ticking, and the Central Government has to ensure that political correctness should not come in the way of hard decisions for the greater public good.

(Featured Image source: Getty Images)


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