New Delhi (IANS) Senior Congressman Salman Khurshid, here on Monday, defended the Tablighi Jamaat, known as the 'super spreader' of Covid-19, claiming the Islamic sect didn't violate any law. Citing the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, Khurshid claimed had aggressive testing been conducted there as with the Jamaatis, the number of infected would have been equally high. The Congress leader also spoke about the migrant crisis, relaxation of lockdown and many other issues in an interview with IANS. Excerpts:
Q: Are a lot of political parties playing communal card on the Tablighi Jamaat issue?
A: If they have, let's ignore them. Let's be clear that something went wrong. But it's not the only place where things went wrong. Something also went wrong with the sensible behaviour.
I don't think they were violating any law, but were certainly not showing alertness for such a crisis. It so happened that those who came for the Jamaat were aggressively tested. It was good thing. But because of large testing, the number (coronavirus positive) was high too. For example, if you conduct equally aggressive testing in Dharavi, you will get similar numbers.
But it's past and over. Whoever was trying to fish in troubled waters, we should not highlight them. We shall ignore them and look at the important issue of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Q: What would be your suggestion to the central and the state governments on high unemployment and migrants' movement?
A: There are certain things that don't require rocket science. We are still working on how the migrant labourers would return to their native places. Why it took so long is distressing. The lockdown, hopefully, would be lifted on May 17. By then, most of them would be back to their native places. And on May 18 when we reopen the economy, who will work?
Who will persuade them to return to work? Even if they are persuaded, what will be the arrangement to bring them back? Who will bear their travel cost, this time? Whatever the salary these people were getting, how will that be protected?
The government could be doing whatever it could under various schemes, but there is no information available. If I want to know who all have got pensions, I can't. As the information is not available anywhere. I can't wait 3 months to find out and help somebody.
It's not a war against foreign enemy, but against a natural enemy. Just like we need vaccine to fight the virus, we need the power of information to fight this social enemy.
Q: What's your take on video conferencing in courts? How successful is it?
A: Well, I would say it's a work in progress. I have some impressions about how effective it can be. The judges are clear that it will only be for limited purpose and emergencies. It can't be for prolonged hearings. I don't know why they haven't yet looked at software for digitization of entire case file.
If the case file is available in digital format, then all you do is to upload it and see lawyers arguing and judges directing. Basically, what's being used is the software generally available for video conferencing. Software designed specifically for the court proceedings is not out yet.
We will see how it works. It's an extraordinary situation. But the good thing is it's there and in an emergency will keep the lines open.
Q: How successful the central and the state governments been in managing Covid-19 crisis?
A: In this moment we all have to be together. We have to be very careful with criticism and suggestions. We must concentrate on ideas that will work in a sensible setting. Being critical of failures, perhaps, is not the right thing given the present circumstances.
However, in other democracies, like the UK and the USA, where people perceived real failures in management, they came out fairly ruthlessly.
There has definitely been shortcomings. Such a thing should not continue. Unless we admit, we can't overcome it. We support the government in these critical times, but it has to happen both ways.
In India, it's a general sentiment that one is too critical and I must respect that. But in the democracy, we need to have a space to be able to say something that's not looking right.
Even if I were in the ruling party, I would have pointed to shortcomings in management of the migrant labourers.
Q: What's your views on the recent Vizag gas tragedy?
A: We don't learn. After the Bhopal gas tragedy, if we still haven't equipped ourselves to prevent such things, it's sad. I feel deep regret and concern towards the families who suffered. I express my deepest sympathies to such families.
It's a sad reminder that there is something wrong in the way we conduct ourselves. It's not about the government. It's about administration, our civic attitude, and each citizen is a part of the chain. Somewhere, we have gone wrong again and again.
Q: A former Reserve Bank of India chief said Rs 65,000 crore would be needed for the revival of the economy. Will the government do it?
A: I hope they will. I am sure Rahul Gandhi would continue to push this vigorously as he has been doing. This crisis has shown us how vulnerable the poor in our country are. I hope Gandhi's concern is taken more seriously post-Covid-19, as we take up the task of reopening as it's necessary and important.
I hope, the social security web, which our (UPA) government tried to create through crop insurances and food security, is taken much more seriously.