Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar, both formidable regional satraps known for confronting the BJP-led Central government in contrasting ways, have not only mishandled the Covid crisis in their respective states – West Bengal and Bihar – but also messed up the return of migrant workers. In Bengal, the coronavirus mortality rate is over 8 per cent, way above the national average of around 3 per cent; Bihar’s rate is relatively low (less than 1 per cent), but there is no room for complacency in view of the state’s fragile healthcare infrastructure. In terms of positive cases, both states are behind worst-affected ones such as Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, but that is largely attributed to low testing rates. Their numbers are likely to shoot up if the testing capacity is enhanced drastically.
True to her nature, Mamata has been indulging in one-upmanship with the NDA government since the outbreak of the pandemic. In her latest salvo, she has decided not to impose night curfew in the state, shooting down the Centre’s proposal. The TMC government has also been accused of adopting a pick-and-choose approach for bringing back migrants, virtually pitting one community against another.
Nitish, whose JD(U) has an uneasy alliance with the BJP, took an unreasonably tough stand after the migrants’ exodus began in the last week of March. Citing fears of faster spread of Covid-19, he was quick to wash his hands of the responsibility of ensuring the safe return not only of migrants stuck in other states but also of Bihari students stranded in Kota (Rajasthan). His unsavoury tussle with the Centre ended only when the latter decided to run Shramik trains from May 1. However, it was as late as May 16 that trains carrying thousands of stranded migrants back to Bihar and West Bengal left from Mumbai after Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray sought his counterparts’ much-needed cooperation. The two CMs’ ill-timed power play has aggravated the humanitarian and health crisis. With both states going to the polls over the next year or so, time is running out for Nitish and Mamata to get their act together.
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