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Wakeup Call For Netas

Bhubaneswar: There should be no doubt that Odisha is passing through a challenging time, and nobody exactly knows how long the scourge will continue. Despite weekly shutdown and two-week-long lockdown, the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise. The report of the last week shows that one in every five samples tested is positive. In certain districts like Kalahandi, Sambalpur, Khurda, Angul and Bargarh, the ground situation is grim. The test positivity rate (TPR) in these districts continued to remain above 30%. At the same time, in tribal-dominated Kalahandi, it is 46% which means that one in two people tests positive. This is despite the imposition of several measures, including lockdown. Now, a massive awareness campaign seems to be the only option left with the government.

While the government has been doing its best by undertaking vaccination and adopting the tracing, testing and treatment strategy, the people and the politicians appear to be lacking in performing their duties. Recently, senior BJP leader and Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan suggested Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to set up COVID-19 Crisis Management Committee by people from different political parties. It’s a good idea. But, should politicians wait till the formation of the committee and come out to help the masses after joining the committees?

The parties should take the awareness campaign on the line of election campaigns. The major parties like the ruling BJD, opposition Congress and BJP, should rise to the occasion and not confine them to press conference or politicking like the recent spat between BJP’s Aparajita Sarangi and Congress leader Panchanan Kanungo. Both the prominent leaders were seen defending their parties and engaged in blame games.

However, the politicians are yet to spearhead awareness campaigns on mask-wearing, social distancing, hand washing and other safety measures. Has anyone seen hoardings in villages and towns erected by any political party on the COVID-19 issue? Had it been election time, each empty space on boundary walls or roadside would have been filled with posters, banners and larger-than-life size cutouts of political leaders.

If the political parties start campaigning against COVID-19, it will undoubtedly impact the people who vote for them. However, unfortunately, politicians, like many others, leave everything to the government. The time has come for the parties to take the responsibility to create awareness on COVID-19 as they do during the election campaign.

All the political parties have booth level workers. They can be given specific responsibilities to cover the population of a particular area. This will also create an opportunity for the parties to get closer to the people. It should be kept in mind that the number of political workers across the state is undoubtedly much more significant than the number of ASHA or Anganwadi workers doing the job.

Though the Asha and Anganwadi didis are going from door to door and educating people, their impact on the residents is limited. If the political workers, cutting across party lines, undertake the same job, it will undoubtedly have a massive effect on the people. The wholehearted campaigning can undoubtedly keep the infection at bay in the villages. Sadly this is not happening in Odisha or elsewhere in the country, as politicians believe that this is not their job. Even the ruling party workers are not taking it as a responsibility.

A senior politician recently opined that many leaders, MPs, MLAs and ministers had been infected with the disease. Therefore, political people keep themselves away from mass campaigning. However, the senior leader should not forget that the front line and health care workers have not stopped working among the infected and suspected COVID-19 cases, fearing that they will get infected. If all think in the line of politicians, then the state can hardly undertake any treatment and put up a fight against the pandemic.

In the meantime, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has convened an all-party meeting of all the MLAs on May 17. The Speaker will preside over the meeting to be held in the Assembly premises, open to all lawmakers to join or participate in virtual mode. The government now wants to take feedback from the lawmakers on their areas and what is precisely required to overcome the crisis. The meeting is a welcome step. All parties should now join hands and take a pledge to fight against the pandemic instead of leaving all responsibilities on the government.

It is a fact that there is a vast COVID management program going on across the state. However, one must understand that people are doing the same job in the same setup without a break for more than one and a half years. What can the government do? Its people are tired and completely exhausted and are still doing work away from their families. The sacrifice of doctors, nurses, paramedics, police and many others is commendable. Senior officers like ACS Health and Family Welfare P K Mohapatra, Special Secretary Shalini Pandit, and many District Collectors and their staff have continued their relentless war on the pandemic. All of them have been working beyond their limits. This is high time that the politicians should also take responsibility and contribute to the war against the biggest epidemic of our time.

It is a good decision that the students’ wing of Congress has decided to distribute Vitamin tablets among the COVId-19 patients. The workers of AAP have been going around the slums to check the oxygen levels of the people. At the same time, BJD organizes blood donation camps and other activities. Even BJP has also undertaken certain activities through their volunteers. But the call of the hour is to raise awareness among the people on the line of the election campaign to save the people. The lockdown measures alone are not sufficient to contain the spread of infection. All the political parties, if not under one umbrella