After a delay of 22 days, the elected members of the Assembly of Puducherry Union Territory were sworn in on May 26. The inordinate delay, even as the COVID-19 pandemic is raging in the UT, is attributed to the alleged hunger for power of the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).
While the citizens of Puducherry are languishing for better health facilities, the tug-off war between the alliance partners, BJP and NR Congress appears to have only intensified. The BJP has improved its strength to 12 in the 33 member Assembly, after the union Home Ministry nominated three members to the house and garnered the support of three independents.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 infections continue to remain inconsistent, with cases varying between 900 to 2,000 in the last couple of weeks, with the highest ever daily deaths being recorded as 34 on May 23.
BARGAINING CONTINUES BETWEEN BJP AND NR CONGRESS
The BJP, following its policy as in the rest of the country, seems to be showing no remorse in capturing power. The lieutenant governor (LG) was calling the shots after the V Narayanaswamy led Congress government was toppled earlier this year. The NR Congress and BJP won 10 and 6 seats respectively, leading to N Rangaswamy being sworn in as Chief Minister on May 7.
The union Home Ministry, even before the elected legislators were sworn in, nominated three BJP loyalists as nominated MLAs on May 10. The local BJP went ahead with roping in independent MLAs to its fold and have reportedly succeeded in bringing three of the six on to its fold, taking the strength of the party to 12. The BJP is technically the single largest party in the Puducherry Assembly.
Also read: Puducherry Elections: Desperate BJP Allegedly Bribes Voters, Makes Huge Promises
The CM is yet to decide on his cabinet colleagues, reportedly due to pressure and bargaining from the BJP. Reports in the media suggest that BJP is demanding the posts of deputy CM, two ministerial berths and Speaker.
LEGISLATORS TAKE OATH AFTER THREE WEEKS
The swearing in of the MLAs was delayed in spite of the CM taking oath on May 7. The CM nominated a pro-tem speaker on May 9, just before getting admitted for COVID-19 treatment in a Chennai hospital. Interestingly, the union Home Ministry appointed the three nominated MLAs the very next day.
Meanwhile, the LG delayed a decision on the recommendation till May 21 for reasons best known the LG. The recommendation of the appointment of the pro-tem speaker was approved by the LG on May 21, without any announcement on the swearing in process. Three days later on May 24, the LG notified the swearing in was scheduled on May 26.
All these point towards one thing, that the BJP and NR Congress were not on the same page, even though they contested the elections together. While the NR Congress nominated N Rangasamy as the CM candidate, the BJP refrained from endorsing the decision initially.
After the NDA gained majority, the hunger for power and the feud between the BJP and NR Congress is yet to bring any relief for the residents of Puducherry.
FRONTLINE WORKERS, VOLUNTEERS LEAD RELIEF WORKS
While all the murky political games continue, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in the UT. The number of cases has increased during the past three weeks, with the highest single day spike (2,049) so far being reported on May 11. The partial lockdown is in place till May 30.
As on May 27, the UT has a total of 14,473 active cases with 1,455 deaths. The total infections have increased to 1,00,677. The case fatality rate stood at 1.45% on May 27, while it was 1.6% on April 6. The highest single day death of 34 was recorded on May 23.
However, healthcare workers and volunteers have jumped in to provide relief to the residents in the absence of the elected representatives. A Anand, president of the Puducherry chapter of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), said, “Volunteers for DYFI and Students Federation of India (SFI) are extending all possible help to the Health Department. We are connecting the healthcare personnel and the needy people through the COVID-19 war room.”
The volunteers are proving vital in contact tracing and ensuring that primary contacts are tested on time. “We have also identified a few clusters in industries, where workers are infected in high numbers. This has helped in keeping a check on the fresh infections and early hospitalisation of the needy people,” he added.
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“The home-centred strategy for monitoring patients, which was active in the first wave, has been revived since nearly a month and has helped guide recovery through a combination of contact over phone and physical visits. Equally importantly, they have ensured that hospital resources can be earmarked for the seriously ill,” said T. Arun, Health Secretary, according to The Hindu’s report.
Hundreds of final year students of medicine have also volunteered in the cause, bringing a major relief for the health sector.
INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS FAST EXPANSION
With cases increasing in the last couple of weeks, the UT is also facing a severe shortage of oxygen beds. On May 20, the UT had 100% occupancy of oxygen beds, as cases were surging.
The LG on May 6 informed that the bed capacity in Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam districts of the UT were increased. But, it was reportedly not sufficient to cater to the increased demand as many patients needed oxygen support.
At the Indira Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, the government-run COVID-19 hospital, patients requiring oxygen are being immediately admitted and given oxygen on chairs and floors, till beds become vacant for them, reported The New Indian Express.
The shortage of essentials including PPE kits, N95 masks are also being reported. A frontline worker on condition of anonymity said, “There is a shortage of PPEs and masks for the frontline workers who are involved in testing the suspected patients and other related works. The purchase of such equipment is delayed by higher officials in the Finance Department. The condition could worsen if healthcare workers are infected and the containment works could take a hit.”
The suffering of the people is likely to extend if the NR Congress-BJP turmoil does not come to an end soon. For the time, BJP has managed a position of dictating its partner, while the future of the new government relies on the political acumen of N Rangasamy, a seasoned politician.
Also read: Puducherry: How Congress Lost One More Government to BJP Ploy