Manoj Jha, in his Rajya Sabha speech on September 16 slammed the government over the various ways in which it has mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic. In his speech he criticized the scapegoating of Tablighi Jamaat attendees, the migrant crisis that arose due to the lockdown, the PM cares fund, and recent push towards privatisation.
Manoj Jha is the spokesperson of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. In 2018, he was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar. He has been the head of the Department of Social Work at the Delhi University between 2014 and 2017, and been a professor of Social Work at DU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi School of Social Work, and School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.
‘Social’ Distancing and Tablighi Jamaat
Manoj Jha points out that we should call the COVID-19 prevention strategy ‘physical distancing’ instead of ‘social’ distancing, especially since we have enough social distance in India already due to the social stratification systems in the country.
तब्लीग़ी जमात को बदनाम करने का मामला, संसद में मनोज झा ने उठाई आवाज़
Posted by Millat Times on Wednesday, September 16, 2020
So much so, that the entire spread of COVID-19 was initially blamed on the Tablighi Jamaat congregation held in Delhi before the lockdown, even as similar congregations took place at the behest of the BJP. Including the massive ‘Namaste Trump’ event held in Gujarat during US President Trump’s visit to India, and BJP’s attempts at toppling the Kamal Nath-led Congress government by continuing the function of the Parliament and the Madhya Pradesh State Assembly even after the COVID-19 outbreak began, and demanding a floor test as well.
Manoj Jha questioned the decision of enforcing the lockdown. He asked whether it was taken by one person or collectively by the Cabinet as it should have been. If it was a collective decision, he asked what measures had been taken to prepare for the lockdown that was enforced suddenly without any notice. Although the middle and upper classes were able to transition comfortably into the lockdown, the poor and vulnerable were left to fend for themselves.
The Union Labour Ministry said to the parliament that since there were no figures about migrant worker’s deaths amidst the lockdown, there was no question of giving compensation. To this, Manoj Jha said, that the migrants of this country are not just figures or data, but rather, someone’s father, someone’s mother, and if the government does not have figures of these deaths then it actually shows that the government does not have the capacity to empathize with its people.
He proposed that the Parliament should extend an apology to the workers and migrants of the country about whom the government did not stop to think during the lockdown.
Healthcare Response to Covid-19
Jha said that he has always opposed privatisation and liberalisation, and expressed concern over the privatisation of health and education. In spite of this, it was the public health infrastructure that dealt with the brunt of the pandemic. The government should not only commend the public health workers but reconsider its economic decisions about the public health infrastructure. The government should not only pay its tribute to those it has termed as ‘covid warriors’ but to everyone.
Manoj Jha appeals to the government to stop the rhetoric of national pride over there being fewer deaths in India compared to other countries. This, he says, is an extremely inhumane and unempathetic response to such a crisis. He says that the government should try going to a person whose father has died due to COVID-19 and telling them that India has had fewer deaths than other countries and see if that is of any consolation to that person.
Instead, the government should open its hands, be it 7000 rupees or 8000 rupees, but it should give financial assistance at least to poor families who earn below the taxable limit. The government should act according to the name it has used for the un-audited PM Cares Fund.
Finally, he slams the unscientific mindset of the government, which ignored prevention strategies and healthcare, thinking the lockdown on its own would be a vaccine for the pandemic.
Manoj Jha has outlined some of the major problems with the way the BJP government has dealt with the pandemic, sacrificing the people’s well being and dignity for rhetoric and unscientific grandstanding. His simple appeal for sensitivity and a humane outlook from the government towards its own people is rarer than it should be in any democratic country.