“Whether it is Kumbh or Ramzan, there has been no Covid-appropriate behaviour. It cannot happen. That is why we had to appeal and the Kumbh has now turned symbolic,” Shah said in an interview with Times Now channel.
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He denied that the Centre had turned complacent after having tackled the first wave and, as a result, people were having to deal with shortages of medicines and oxygen cylinders.
He pointed to the global experience to argue, “Wherever there has been a second wave or third wave, each new wave has been at least twice the size of the earlier one. The new variant of the virus spreads quicker. It is less lethal but spreads faster.”
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Shah further said scientists were studying new mutants and would soon have a fix on them. “The speed at which the virus is spreading today is certainly problematic but I have full faith that we will win the second fight against the pandemic,” he added.
He also highlighted that most of the worst-affected states were those which had large diaspora populations. “Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi… it is these states which have a larger international travel,” he said.
On the possibility of a lockdown, Shah said it was for states to decide. “For the last three months, we have allowed states to impose restrictions as per their analysis. Every state is fighting a different battle. Evaluation will have to be done by state governments, and they have the right to impose restrictions. It is up to states to decide what needs to be done to curb the spread. If the situation is normal in Assam even after the elections, what is the need to impose lockdown there?” he said.
When asked about political parties carrying on with their campaign amid surging infections, the minister said the issue fell within the jurisdiction of the Election Commission. “The EC spoke with all parties, and it was decided to reduce campaigning by one day and to finish the day’s campaign by 7 pm. Political parties were urged to provide masks and sanitisers at rallies and my party has, starting with the PM’s rally on April 17, provided 5 crore masks. But what is to be done about an election which is underway can only be decided by the EC,” he said.
Shah was bullish about BJP’s prospects in the Bengal polls and said the party’s strong performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections had dispelled people’s doubts about its electoral viability and it was set to win more than 200 seats.
“I have enough experience of participating in elections. I can guarantee you that BJP will form the government with more than 200 seats,” he said, adding that Trinamool was now scared.
Shah denied that BJP had enlisted the “Jai Shri Ram” chant to seek to mobilise the majority community, insisting that it was not a religious slogan. “Jai Shri Ram imbibes the idea of development, it means standing up against injustice. It means opposing politics of polarisation and reflects the pain of those who have been living in the country without citizenship. It signifies the rage of devotees who have to go to courts to organise Durga Puja. Jai Shri Ram reflects the pain of those three teachers who were killed because they wanted to study and teach in Bangla and Urdu and whose last rites could not be performed,” he said, asserting that the PM’s speeches in Bengal were focused on development.
On the Sitalkuchi incident, he repeated his allegation that West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee first engineered the incident by inciting people to gherao paramilitary personnel and then tried to exploit the deaths of those who were killed in the firing that ensued. Shah also said Banerjee had left out mention of Anand Burman who was shot dead from point blank range in the same village.