The government has abandoned any pretence of being democratic, has no compassion for the poor and has embarked on a "wild adventure of so-called reforms" including a grand clearance sale of public sector units, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said today during the first online meeting of opposition parties to discuss the coronavirus crisis.
"All power is now concentrated in one office, the PMO," the Congress president said in a searing critique of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government over its Covid response.
"The spirit of federalism, which is an integral part of our Constitution, is all but forgotten. There is no indication either if the two Houses of Parliament or the Standing Committees will be summoned to meet."
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray joined the meeting but prominent absentees included Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)'s Arvind Kejriwal. All three parties have their political issues with the Congress.
Sonia Gandhi lashed out at the government's virus strategy and noted that successive lockdowns had delivered diminishing returns.
"The initial optimism of the Prime Minister that the war against the virus would conclude in 21 days has turned out to be misplaced. It seems that the virus is here to stay until a vaccine is found. I am also of the view that the government was uncertain about the criteria for lockdowns, nor does it have an exit strategy," Mrs Gandhi said.
Stating that the economy was "gravely crippled", the Congress chief said every economist of repute had advised an immediate need for a massive fiscal stimulus but "the Prime Minister's announcement of a grand Rs 20 lakh crore package - and the Finance Minister spelling out its details over the next five days -- have turned out to be a cruel joke on the country."
Apart from migrant workers, she said, those who had been "cruelly ignored" include the 13 crore families in the bottom half of the population -- tenant farmers and landless agricultural workers; the laid off or retrenched workers; the shopkeepers and the self-employed; MSMEs; and organized industries.
"That the present government has no solutions is worrying; but that it has no empathy or compassion for the poor and vulnerable is heartbreaking," said Mrs Gandhi.
For Uddhav Thackeray, whose Shiv Sena was a BJP ally for 35 years but has now teamed up with the NCP and Congress to rule Maharashtra, this is the first meeting with the united opposition.