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Bandra and Anand Vihar mob incidents, Tablighi Jamaat cover-up blots on India’s coronavirus fight

"They appear engineered by regional political parties to tarnish the reputation of the government. I smell a political vendetta here," the head of GSPFP, a national security think tank, Dr Anant Bhagwat, says of instances of migrant crowds which gathered in Delhi and Bandra

Reported by: Dhairya Maheshwari New Delhi Updated on: April 17, 2020 22:05 IST
Hundreds of migrant workers had gathered at the Bandra
Image Source : INDIA TV

Hundreds of migrant workers had gathered at the Bandra train station on April 14, in hopes that trains would be plying for their hometowns

For most of his adult life, Pune-based radiologist Dr Anant Bhagwat has been working towards promoting religious harmony between the Hindu and Muslim communities. A self-acclaimed nationalist, Dr Bhagwat also heads a national security think tank Global Strategic Policy Foundation Pune (GSPFP). The think tank's high profile speakers include personalities such as Minister of State VK Singh, former minister Hansraj Ahir, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, the former commander of the XV Corps of the Indian Army and the late Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar among others.

Having been involved in promoting inter-faith relations, Dr Anant Bhagwat says that incidents like the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at Nizamuddin Markaz last month have been a blot on India’s otherwise highly laudable response against coronavirus. “Like the government hasn’t, the society should also not hold the whole community responsible for isolated incidents perpetrated by a few rogue community leaders,” he however warns.

A native of Maharashtra, Bhagwat also sees a political conspiracy as to how huge crowds of migrant workers gathered first in Delhi and then in Mumbai. “They (the events) appear engineered by regional political parties to tarnish the reputation of the government. I smell a political vendetta here,” he says.

India Tv - Dr Anant Bhagwat (sitting on the extreme left) is seen here with then Union Defence minister, the late Manohar Parrikar, and other high-profile guests at an event in Baroda in September 2016

Image Source : INDIA TV

Dr Anant Bhagwat (sitting on the extreme left) is seen here with then Union Defence minister, the late Manohar Parrikar, and other high-profile guests at an event in Baroda in September 2016

The well-connected defence expert agreed to take a few questions from India TV Digital. Edited excerpts:

1. The last two days have witnessed a relative spurt in the number of cases when compared to the positive infections tracked in days before? Incidentally, the second round of lockdown began two days back, on the back of the end of the first one. In your view, how much under control are things?

A. The spurt in cases is likely to be a thin spike and will be reversed in the coming days, given that people across the country continue to follow the lockdown restrictions in place. From my discussions with government officials and medical experts, I can safely state that viruses have different life cycles, varying degrees of virulence and multiple strains. Similarly, climate, age and immunity, should also be factored in. Pure mathematics may sometimes be misleading. 

As far as the government’s efforts are concerned, hats off. It simply could not have been better managed and the whole world, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), has acknowledged it. The government took timely, stringent, and unpopular decisions. They are now paying off. At the same time, success so far couldn't have been achieved without the equally admirable participation of the society, health workers and the Indian Army.

2. Two major episodes in what has been otherwise a smooth lockdown period stand out. One, the images of people across Delhi converging at Anand Vihar on 28 and 29th of March. Secondly, the scenes witnessed at the Bandra train station on April 14. What exactly do you think is the strategy of the government while dealing with the issue of stranded migrants? Can't we just test them and start bussing them back, as they have been demanding?

A. Yes, these two incidents were blots, in an otherwise smooth and highly efficient lockdown. They appear engineered by regional political parties to tarnish the reputation of the government. I smell a political vendetta here. Fortunately, the government reacted very positively with a focus on damage control rather than political retribution. Those who misled the poor migrants must be brought to book and they will be, but not at this stage.

3. The Maharashtra Cyber Cell has identified 30 persons, accusing them of spreading fake news that led to the Bandra mob incident. In Delhi, the home ministry suspended the transport secretary for letting the buses being used on the 28 and 29. Would you say that certain political actors are exploiting the plight of migrants towards their own political ends, as it appears?

A. Of course, the incidents were not only politically motivated acts with a sinister underlying design, but also put at stake the safety of migrants. While the government has acted commendably in the past to discourage the recurrence of such anti-national acts, I firmly believe that the masterminds must be exposed in front of the people. Not only did these two instances strived to defeat the purpose of the lockdown, but they could have also culminated in a significant spike in the number of infections, particularly in rural areas. It could have been a health disaster from which there would have been no turning back.

Having said that, we must at this stage focus on the war against coronavirus. India is almost on the verge of victory.

India Tv - Dr Bhagwat (third from right) is seen here at the Indian Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) with its current president Sirajuddin Qureshi (fourth from left), on Nov 3, 2019

Image Source : INDIA TV

Dr Bhagwat (third from right) is seen here at the Indian Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) with its current president Sirajuddin Qureshi (fourth from left), on Nov 3, 2019

4. There are reports coming in that religious gatherings have been a problem, particularly the way some poor folk are being misled by community leaders. All this seems to be coming in the way of our battle against the virus.

A. Surely, religious gatherings have been playing a very negative role in otherwise excellent management. However, barring the controversial Tablighi Jamaat gathering in March, other Muslim community leaders have been with the government in this effort.

Prominent maulanas, maulvis, muftis and imams have denounced what happened at the Markaz, as well as subsequent attempts at a cover-up. The Waqf Board, the Haj and umra committees and to Muslim intellectuals, film stars and industrialists among others have swiftly urged the community to observe strict social distancing in religious gatherings including Jumme ki Namaz. I am also very sure that the Holy Month of Ramadan will pass off without an incident, largely because of extensive efforts on part of Muslim clerics and other important people who wield influence in the community.

Like the government hasn’t, the society should also not hold the whole community responsible for isolated incidents perpetrated by a few rogue community leaders.

The understanding in the intelligence community is that a fifth-generation war with the enemies of India is ongoing. As they say, the "fuel and wind” come from outside, while finding a few logs in a country with a population of 1.3 billion, is not very difficult. Encouraging and building upon the strong, inter-community relations would, therefore, go a long way in countering such malicious influence from external actors.

India Tv - Dr Bhagwat is seen in the picture with MoS State General (retired) VK Singh, at one of the conferences organised by his think tank GSPFP

Image Source : INDIA TV

Dr Bhagwat is seen in the picture with MoS State General (retired) VK Singh, at one of the conferences organised by his think tank GSPFP

5. In an ideal scenario, we would like to test all the people who live in districts other than which have been identified as having no cases of coronavirus. Would that mean requiring 40-50 crore testing kits in the coming weeks? What could be done to deal with the situation?

A. Equipment, including PPEs, test kits, medicine, ventilators, etc, can never be adequate in any pandemic of this nature and have not been in any single country of the planet, a list that involves affluent nations with three per cent of their GDPs going into the health sector. So, it is about manufacturing/acquiring the necessary equipment quickly and on a war footing, which the Centre has been doing very well. Finally, optimum utilisation of available resources is also crucial and that's where statistics and mathematics come into play. Our bureaucrats are very good at it. One example of how we are quickly innovating is the case of "pool testing," where a single random high-risk person is tested from a given locality and if he tests positive, every single person of that neighbourhood undergoes a test.

It is commendable that the defense industry, including ordnance factories, the DRDO, and Indian Army workshops, even the nuclear-testing labs, have quickly switched towards manufacturing, or helping to put together, this equipment. All major stakeholders are now part of our battle against the coronavirus.

Also read: India’s coronavirus doubling rate lowers to 6.2 days; growth factor declines by 40 pc

 

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