How Maharashtra Lost the Battle

    25-May-2020
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Lack of coordination between the ruling coalition partners, failure of the  Chief Minister and top cabinet ministers to take full responsibility, and an overall absence of leadership has ensured that Maharashtra stares at a bigger disaster with the onset of monsoon

 -Smita Deshmukh 

 
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A distrurbing scene where patients were left under
flyover in Mumbai due to lack of beds in hospitals
 
A normal day in Covid-19 lockdown in Maharashtra: Minister Aditya Thackeray getting into a Twitter fight with those who ‘dared’ to question the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government’s handling of the corona crisis. Fiery exchanges followed by his paid troll army hurling choicest abuses and then blocked.
 
Consider this statistic: As of May 22:
 
  • Total cases in India – 1,18,452
  • No of cases in Maharashtra – 41,642
  • So 35% of India’s COVID19 cases are in Maharashtra
  • Total deaths in India – 3,584
  • Maharashtra deaths – 1454
 
So, 40% of deaths are from one state.
 
Scenes at two major check ‘nakas’ in Mumbai are horrifying, with hundreds of migrants still stranded, those videos of hundreds marching towards Bandra terminus in desperation to catch a train outside this beleaguered state, still haunts me. Dharavi – one of the biggest slums in India, has 1,478 cases and 57 deaths. Mumbai has a capacity of 10,000 tests, but as of today doing just around 4,500. How can the medical fraternity identify the upcoming COVID-19 scenario this way?
 
While health experts and common man are grappling with the scary tomorrow, all seems too well with the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government. Their achievement so far? Get Bollywood celebs to tweet praises (it is alleged that a major celeb PR agency was hired to do the same), trend several hashtags on social media – #BestCMever, #ISupportUddhav and of course, the historic Facebook lives!
 
Delhi has opened up this week, so has Bengaluru. But Mumbai simply can’t – the rising cases and daily stories of patients unable to get ambulances and hospital beds, have created a panic. In a pandemic, the worst affected are big cities, no doubt. New York is a mess, while the rest of the US is opening up. But NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is ‘visible’ on the ground. He takes on daily questions from an aggressive media, addresses concerns and is the face of the American fight-back.
 
Unfortunately, we have none. Governance is a non-starter in this three-party, shaky coalition. No one actually talks with anyone. All government offices have thin attendance. In fact, Mantralaya – the administrative headquarters, which should have been the battleground against this pandemic, rarely sees people. With CM Uddhav Thackeray locking himself in his home in Bandra (E), the day-to-day functioning of this government is now with chief secretary Ajoy Mehta, who is taking all the major decisions.
 
The biggest governance failure, which the politicians failed to control was the open fight between the IAS lobby right from March. With Congress, leaders refuse to join in and NCP ensuring Uddhav Thackeray handle it all, the IAS lobby was waiting to take over. The liquor shop open and shut tamasha was a classic case of priorities with the IPS against decision and IAS for it. The long queues and disastrous social distancing forced everyone to back off.
 
In a crisis, symbolism counts and here too the entire MVA administration showed its worst face. NCP minister Jitendra Awhad openly violated the lockdown to beat up a Thane resident for a meme against him, while Amitabh Gupta, a senior home ministry babu apparently permitted the tainted Wadhwan brothers to leave Mumbai to Mahabaleshwar. Gupta’s suspension and a subsequent inquiry was a bigger sham. Wadhwan is in ED custody, Gupta is back to work and Awhad, recovering from corona is all over TV channels.
 
Good governance is about leadership, teamwork, fast decision making and anticipating problems in advance. Maharashtra cannot achieve this ever because this is clearly a dysfunctional government. Here the CM and deputy CM rarely meet. Remember the all-party meeting fiasco when leaders turned up at Mantralaya only to find CM Thackeray connecting with them via video conference! For a party that has ruled Mumbai for 25 years, did it require Einstein’s brain to figure out the sealing of dense areas like Dharavi in March itself?
 
Amongst the three coalition partners, there is zero visible coordination. COVID-19 is a problem to be handled by CM Uddhav Thackeray, why should we get involved, an NCP source told me in April! NCP supremo Sharad Pawar came out once for a coordination meeting, but no knows what decisions were taken. Congress has two former CM’s – Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan. Both silent and refusing to take an official role in fighting this pandemic. Sena loudmouth Sanjay Raut occasionally wakes up only to demand a package from the Centre. But no word on how the CM Relief Fund is being spent.
 
Meanwhile, cases continue to rise across the state – Pune, Mumbai, Solapur, Aurangabad, and Nagpur. The biggest allegation on government hospitals is their refusal to write COVID-19 on the death certificate of patients dying due to the virus. The case of Dharavi police inspector Amol Kulkarni has put the entire Home Ministry to shame. Testing positive, his health deteriorated, but the family couldn’t get an ambulance. They finally reached Sion hospital, but he passed away. However, his colleagues were surprised to find the death certificate stating high BP and diabetes as a reason. They took the matter right up to Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, and things got rectified.
 

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Lack of coordination between the ruling coalition partners is cited
as a primary reason for failure to handle COVID19 scenario in Maharashtra
While health experts and common man are grappling with the scary tomorrow, all that the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government has achieved so far is to get Bollywood celebs to tweet praises and trend pro-government hashtags on social media
 
Ask any government official, and they will tell you the truth off the record – 30% of all civic officers in Mumbai have tested positive. The situation in local ward offices is bad. The morale of the police is all time low with record no of corona positive cases and constant attacks on them by violators of the lockdown (over 90,000 cases have been registered across the state). And to top it all, many IAS officers have turned positive, forcing the authorities to lock down a big residential complex in South Mumbai where they all reside.
 
So where does Maharashtra go from here? Y Let us face the harsh truth – the lockdown era is coming to an end. Mumbai and Maharashtra have to open up. The first would be for CM Uddhav Thackeray to come out of his self-imposed exile and lead in this second, yet critical phase. He must show a roadmap for the coming months – instil confidence in people, businesses and industries.
 
(The author is a former journalist, communications expert and a media educator based in Mumbai)