Netas Missing In Action

Though Rural Development Minister Sushant Singh maintains a low profile in the Council of Ministers, he has created an example for other politicians in the State. A resident of Bargarh district, Mr.Singh did not hesitate to drive the vehicle carrying migrant workers from Secunderabad, stranded at Sohela check gate bordering Chhattisgarh. He rushed to Sohela check gate in an open vehicle and received the distressed people. His driver was absent and other drivers in the locality expressed reluctance to go to the people who returned from a highly COVID-19 infested city.

The distressed people from Secunderabad had boarded a truck which left for West Bengal and dropped them at Sohela. They called up officials in the dead of the night, who asked them to wait till morning for being picked up. As many of them were mentally distressed, one of them called up Singh and apprised him of their condition. The people said they wanted to go to quarantine centre immediately. “After getting the phone call, I thought to send my driver to bring the migrant workers. But he had left for his village. Then I contacted other drivers, who expressed fear to go to the people returning from Secunderabad. Finally, I drove the vehicle and picked them up and admitted them to the quarantine centre,” Mr.Singh said.

This may be an isolated case. But, the incident has exposed the lack of will of politicians cutting across party lines, who prefer to roam in power corridors in the state capital, giving bytes to television channels, instead of rushing to their constituencies and generating awareness among people on the highly infectious virus that has kept the entire globe locked down. A large number of politicians including MLAs, Ministers, Zilla Parishad Members and others enjoying power prefer to remain indoors fearing the novel corona virus, leaving behind their voters to fight for themselves.

There is a general impression that the fight is carried out by a few officials and is exercise confined to them. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik leading from the front is appealing to people, talking to the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers to help out the stranded Odias in other states. It seems no other Minister has so far talked to people and made them aware of the situation. It appears that fight against COVID-19 is the sole responsibility of the Chief Minister and officials and politicians have no role to play.

Barring a few, most Ministers, MLAs and others reportedly watch the television and keep a tab on the situation instead of doing something to give strength to the war against the virus.

The State Bureaucracy led by Chief Secretary Asit Kumar Tripathy is busy fighting the pandemic for which there is no vaccine or medicine. The State Police led by DGP Abhay are doing their job. It seems the political system is not a part of the battle.
When the state is fighting a big battle against an unknown virus, no Minister, MLA, MP or any popular leader is directly or indirectly involved, interacting with people, extending them a helping hand.

When enquired about the reason of absence the political system in the fight against the COVID-19, a section of BJD leaders quietly admit that their services are probably not required by the state administration. People at the helm should realize that though panchayat level leaders are involved in the process, the role of people’s representatives like MLAs, MPs and Ministers could be useful to contain the problems created by the returnees.

Certain incidents reported from Ganjam and some other places have exposed the situation. The people who are returning in large numbers often violate quarantine norms and even create law and order situation. A section of returnees attempt to jump the quarantine and mingle with villagers. Here, the influence of the law makers should be utilized as they can handle the people more efficiently than any government official or even the local sarpanches. Take for instance, Ganjam incidents. BJD veteran and a long time Minister Bikram Keshari Arukha is a popular leader in the district having good command over the people there. But unfortunately, Arukha is not seen anywhere in the scene even as a major road accident took place in his area.

However, a handful of Ministers like Padmanabh Behera, Arun Sahoo, Pratap Jena and Naba Kishore Das appear on television screens on one occasion or another. One should understand that there are 21 Ministers including the Chief Minister. If Ministers and law makers remain silent, their followers and supporters also prefer to remain idle leaving the entire task on officials. One should understand that no one had given responsibility to Sushant Singh to help the migrant workers stranded at Sohela check gate. It was his conscience which took him to rescue the people in distress.

Now, time has come for the entire political force cutting across party lines to come out to work for people. While the government has properly utilized the services of lakhs of Women Self Help Group members, Anganwadi workers, ASHA didis and others, utilizing the services of political leadership is also needed as the situation is turning grave.

As situation demands, the number of patients needing treatment would exceed hospital beds and the state administration is needed to concentrate on immunity building, hygiene boost, strengthening the healthcare system from village to city in the state, helping out the district administration by deploying senior and empathetic officers in the field in general and hot spots in particular.

Organizing the community for self help and involving the political leadership will go a long way in containing the pandemic. Our decision makers have to think of it seriously as it is a peoples’ problem and politicians will understand it better than anybody else and will be able to provide a solution.

Now, time has come for all the citizens living in Odisha to join hands and fight COVID-19 and we should not depend on the government and the police to do everything for us.

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