On Monday morning, the coronavirus death toll in Madhya Pradesh was 43. This was the second highest in the nation, behind Maharashtra. Worse, MP has the highest mortality rate in the country at 7.65 percent (43 deaths out of 562 cases), ahead of Maharashtra’s mortality rate of 6.70 per cent. And MP’s figures are a far cry from Kerala’s, which suffered the first wave of infections but has managed the spread so well that as of Monday, it had “flattened the curve” of the rate of growth of new cases — with only two cases registered on Sunday. So, if Kerala is a lesson in what to do, MP might fall in the category of what not to do.
Former chief minister Kamal Nath has squarely blamed the Centre for the infection’s spread. He went on the record to say that the lockdown was delayed because the Centre was obsessed with toppling his government; it kept Parliament functioning to keep the state Assemblies going, especially MP’s, so that he would have to face a floor test (he no longer had majority support following the defection of Jyotiraditya Scindia and 21 MLAs from the Congress party). Kamal Nath resigned and on March 23, Shivraj Singh Chouhan was sworn in. To paraphrase a Central minister, one need only see the chronology of events.
Since then, there has been inadequate political management of the coronavirus spread. The bureaucracy went on with business-as-usual, as Kamal Nath put it, resulting in the large-scale infection among state health officials. Such is babudom’s attitude that those whose children returned from abroad did not self-quarantine; and senior officers, rather than stay at designated hospitals for monitoring, care and containment, chose to stay in more luxurious private hospitals.
Perhaps the bureaucracy in MP would have behaved more responsibly had there been a functioning council of ministers, or even a health minister of the calibre of Union minister Harsh Vardhan or Telangana health minister Etela Rajender. Yet three weeks after Chouhan was sworn in, MP does not have a health minister. This is no doubt due to the politics of cabinet formation: not only does the CM have to accommodate those from his earlier ministry and party MLAs who have patiently awaited a ministerial berth, but he is also compelled to reward Congress party defectors with whose help the Kamal Nath government was toppled. The pressure of accommodation has led to policy paralysis. With the cases and death toll rising, there is an argument here that the constitutional machinery in MP has broken down and that President’s Rule needs to be imposed.
This paper would urge the MP CM to immediately appoint a health minister. He should ideally appoint a full council of ministers so that the state government can come up with a “focused” economic package for implementation, as demanded by Kamal Nath. Otherwise, Chouhan risks going down in history as a man so desperate for power that he neglected to prevent the coronavirus spread from ravaging his state....