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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 23, New Delhi, May 23, 2020

Letter to Readers Mainstream, 23 May 2020 - Lockdown Edition no9

Saturday 23 May 2020

Super-cyclone Amphan of 21 May 2020 has caused serious damage to land and life in Eastern India and Bangladesh. Why the massive devastation in Bengal and Bangladesh after the cyclone has found practically no coverage on national television is quite disturbing. The disaster to the ecologically sensitive zone of the Sundarbans is an international calamity and the state of West Bengal has rightly demanded that given the scale of damage (estimated to be over 10 billion dollars) it should be declared a ‘National Disaster’.

The death-toll in cyclone Amphan, especially in South Bengal, was revised to 86 once agencies were able to reach areas inaccessible for two days. On his first trip outside Delhi since the nationwide lockdown began last march, Prime Minister Narendra Modi frankly admitted yesterday that the loss of lives, homesteads, infrastructure and standing crops were a double whammy for West Bengal which was severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, he openly disclosed that “the state under Mamataji has tried to fight strongly”, striking a note seldom witnessed in the recent past. In an eight-minute video message from Basirhat (West Bengal) the PM further explained: “staying home and social distancing are the safeguards against corona, whereas moving out from homes and reaching safer places are advisable in case of a cyclone. Bengal has to fight the two challenges together.” While expressing solidarity with the West Bengal State Government, he declared “The Centre was in constant touch with the State Govt. and the two jointly worked hard”. Announcing ex-gratia of Rs Two lakhs to the families of the deceased and Rs Fifty thousand to the injured from the PM’s relief fund. Modi spoke of Rs 1000 crores to West Bengal and Rs 500 crores to neighbouring Odissa after an Ariel survey of the devastation wrought by Amphan.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties meeting in the capital yesterday warned the Modi govt. that post-covid economic crisis would be catastrophic; they described the stimulus package of Rs 20 lakh crores as “a cruel joke on the country” and demanded that the Center come out with a revised stimulus package which would stimulate demand the 22 opposition parties meeting under the convener ship of the Congress charged the Center with “unabashedly” usurping the power of the states in the name of fighting the pandemic. The 22 parties also decided to form a committee to chalk out a future protest plan.

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The autonomy and freedom of media is crucial in a democracy, the media must report the real stories and not play to a pre-crafted agenda. Top officials must not try re-shaping the media attention on India’s COVID-19 lockdown led humanitarian crisis – seeking to downplay the migrant exodus. In a programme on Door Darshan the state-run TV telecast on 19 May, Shashi Shekhar Vempati, CEO of Prasar Bharati, reproached the media for being too focussed on the pain and misery of migrants and thereby emphasizing a negative picture. This is uncalled for advice.

Hundreds of thousands of jobless migrant workers trying to return to their original homes and are stranded in the country. Last week we witnessed a very ugly situation where the country’s main opposition party tried to help the stranded workers by organizing for buses to take them to their destination in the state of Uttar Pradesh; But we saw the UP state administration create all manner of hurdles to obstruct the transport of workers because the buses had been organized by the main opposition party and also seemingly migrant workers don’t matter for now since there is no election around the corner. About a thousand buses had been arranged by the Congress party for migrant workers to travel to UP but they were disallowed by the UP administration from entering the borders. The state unit chief’s for the Congress party in Delhi and in UP were also arrested in the process. (see here news report in the Times of India). Readers would do well to recall that the ruling BJP is said to have arranged some 6,000 buses and 30 trains for a 2019 election campaign rally in Patna for Prime Minister Modi. So remember if its election time people can get transport and goodies but not during a humanitarian crisis.

We offer our condolences for all who have lost lives in the Amphan Cyclone in Bengal and in the plane crash in Karachi.

The Editor, May 23, 2020

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