Bhopal: Three districts of Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal region – Bhind, Morena and Gwalior – have by-polls due on 18 seats by September, and have more than 158 active cases of COVID-19 cases. Despite that, all three districts are green zones, according to the May 27 State Health Bulletin.
All three districts had been orange zones with restrictions, until the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government scrapped the ‘orange zone’ category when the fourth phase of the lockdown began on May 18. The state government divided the remaining districts into red and green zones.
A contrast with the Chambal region can be seen in three districts of the Nimar region where Khandwa, Burhanpur and Dhar, with 133 active COVID-19 cases, a number lower than Chambal region, are marked out as red zones.
With 25 more cases as compared to Nimar, districts in the Chambal region are ‘green’.
Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on April 30, 2020, stated that “the Green Zones will be districts with either zero confirmed cases till date; or, no confirmed case in the last 21 days”. Nevertheless, over the last two days, 19 cases have been reported in the three districts from the Chambal region, according to the daily State Health bulletin. The state has still categorised all three districts as green zones.
CM scrapped orange zones to turn by-poll districts green, alleges Congress
In light of the above data, the Madhya Pradesh Congress has accused the BJP-led state government of marking districts green to help party leaders campaign for the upcoming by-polls.
Madhya Pradesh Congress spokesperson, Ajay Yadav, said the entire Chambal-Gwalior belt, which has 16 of the 24 constituencies, had been an orange zone, but that the government intentionally scrapped the ‘orange zone category’ and declared all these districts green, despite the high number of COVID-19 cases there.
“This has been done to allow BJP leaders and their followers to campaign without any hindrance in the region,” he alleged.
State BJP spokesperson Rajnesh Aggrawal said the Congress was frustrated and that their remarks show that they had given up already. “The norms are the same for all. There is no exception for BJP leaders. All the zones have been declared by the Health Department based on the number of patients and containment areas, keeping the Union Government's guidelines in mind,” he said.
Congress allege low testing in by-poll districts
State Congress spokesperson Abbas Hafeez Khan alleged that most of the districts where by-polls are due – Agar-Malwa, Raise, Ashok Nagar, Bhind, Mandsaur, Morena and Gwalior – had earlier been marked orange. He added that according to the Union Health Ministry guidelines, the orange zones have various restrictions.
“So, for the convenience of BJP leaders, the state government first scrapped the orange zone category and later slowed down daily testing in these districts to show them as green zones,” Khan alleged.
According to the May 28 Health Bulletin for Bhind, Morena and Gwalior, the districts have more than 95 active containment zones (Gwalior- 45, Bhind- 20, Morena- 30) and less than 250 samples have been sent for testing on May 28, including 24 in Bhind and 147 in Gwalior, the bulletin mentioned.
To back his claim, Khan quoted a report in HuffPost from May 20. In Ashok Nagar district, where a by-poll is due, the report says that between May 1 and May 17, only 582 samples have been sent for testing.
Hitting back at the Congress, Aggrawal said: “The Heath Department is conducting tests as per requirement and they are increasing with each passing day. It has got nothing to do with the by-poll."
He added that the BJP is confident if the Election Commission conducts by-polls on time or even if there is a delay due to COVID-19, mentioning that the Congress' allegations are baseless.
The necessity to conduct by-polls for 24 vacant seats emerged after 22 rebel Congress MLAs quit the Kamal Nath-led Congress government and joined the BJP in March this year.
Their resignations were accepted on March 15 and the elections are to be held within six months. Two seats are vacant due to the death of sitting legislators.
The State Election Commission as well as the political parties – Congress, BJP and BSP have begun preparations for the by-poll, but, the date is yet to be announced.
BJP leaders launched campaign in by-poll districts, says Congress
The Congress further alleged that BJP leaders are running a campaign in the region, in violation of the lockdown and social distancing norms.
Water Resources Minister Tulsi Silawat, who has resigned from the Sanwer assembly seat, is expected to contest the by-poll. He visited the constituency last week, accompanied by Shankar Lalwani, the BJP MP from Indore, and MLA Ramesh Mendola.
MP Congress secretary Rakesh Yadav alleged that it was a violation of lockdown restrictions and social distancing norms as a crowd had surrounded the minister and other leaders.
Silawat, however, said the visit had nothing to do with the by-polls and that he was on an official visit to the constituency. “There was no restriction to move around in my constituency,” he said.
On May 24, in the presence of CM Chouhan, nearly 200 Congressmen from Raisen district who are followers of ex-Congress minister and BJP leader Prabhuram Chaudhary, switched to the saffron party at the state BJP headquarters in Bhopal.
Chaudhary is likely to re-contest from Sanchi. The Congress accused the BJP of ignoring social distancing rules on this occasion as well.
According to a Hindustan Times report, Union Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, MP from Morena, held several meetings with party workers in his constituency last week. Five of the total six assembly seats in Morena district will go to polls.
The report further mentioned that in Gwalior, where by-polls are due in three assembly seats, State Health Minister Narottam Mishra and BJP leader Pradyumn Singh Tomar have held several meetings with party workers recently.
Tomar, who had contested from Gwalior, had resigned as a minister from the Kamal Nath government. Tomar is likely to re-contest on a BJP ticket from the same seat.
“The day CM renamed Chambal expressway as Chambal Progress-Way, the party’s campaign in the region started. Leaders are holding small public meetings to inform people about the Congress misrule of 14 months,” State BJP Vice-President ,Vijesh Lunawat, told Hindustan Times.
The strength of the Madhya Pradesh assembly has been reduced to 206 from 230 due to the resignation by Congress legislators and the death of two BJP lawmakers. The BJP, with 107 legislators, is comfortably ahead of the majority mark of 104 MLAs.