The war of words between the Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Manipur over the remarks made by Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on protests carried out by the Congress against price hike in petroleum products, recently, continues to stir media discussions in the state.
In his response to the protest by the Congress, Chief Minister Biren had said that the Modi government was doing much in terms of providing free rice and free Covid vaccines to the people, along with other welfare programmes, and “there is a price for this as free aid does not fall from the sky like rain”.
Meanwhile, the Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) on June 15 demanded Chief Minister Biren give unconditional public apology to the people of Manipur for his remarks on free rice, free medicines and free vaccines being provided to the people.
In a voice note circulated to the media, MPCC president Govindas Konthoujam stated that the remarks made by the Chief Minister are “unforgivable and morally dehumanising words to our poor and needy people in the state during COVID-19 pandemic.”
The president said that Biren ridiculed the people in his speech by asking from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi would give free rice, free medicines and free vaccine if there were no returns, and whether the free items would fall from the skies. By raising such a question, the chief minister has created an infamous record of publicly humiliating and mocking the helplessness of the ordinary citizens of India in Manipur, he stated.
On behalf of the Indian National Congress (INC), Govindas strongly condemning the remarks made by the chief minister said that the insensitivity and humiliating mockery of the state’s public by the BJP chief minister shows that Manipur’s BJP government has no regard for the poor people in the state.
The MPCC president questioned whether or not the BJP government held the constitutional obligations to help the poor by providing them free rice, free medicines and free vaccines as per their constitutional and fundamental rights, and as guaranteed in statutory acts passed in the Parliament and national government’s executive policy?
“As per National Disaster Management Act, food, medicines, essential commodities, drinking water, shelter and others are to be provided for free to the people during notified national calamities. And the Covid pandemic has already been notified as a national disaster,” he added.
The chief minister was asking what the previous Congress governments had done for the state in 15 years, to which he replied by asking in return, “Does Biren mean to say that the then Congress government, in which he was the minister from 2007 to 2012, did not do anything for the people of the state? Does he mean to say that he, as the then Congress government spokesperson, did not announce to the people about the good governance and development done by the Congress government?”
“Biren’s hypocrisy and double speak are being exposed today, and the people of Manipur are its witness,” he stated.
Govindas also alleged that the BJP government is doing double standard politics during the Covid pandemic by consistently raising heavy taxes on petrol and giving back nothing to the people to fight the pandemic.
Pointing out that since 2017 the people of Manipur have already given Rs. 702 crores as state’s taxes from petrol as per the Centre’s PPAC data, he asked how many crores has the BJP government given back to the people of Manipur during COVID-19 pandemic?
He further asked why the state government is taking Rs. 167 crores as taxes from petrol during COVID-19 pandemic (2020-21) instead of giving something back in the form of an economic package to the poor and needy people of the state to fight the COVID-19 pandemic?
The MPCC president further pointed out that the Modi government received Rs. 20.55 lakh crores since 2014 till date, as taxes from the people of India through petrol and during the Covid pandemic (2020-21), the Centre has received Rs. 2.76 lakh crores from the people’s pockets.
“If the people of India gave Rs. 20.55 lakh crores to the Modi government, why should not the Modi government spend something for the people of India during COVID-19 pandemic? And as the Modi government took Rs. 2.76 lakh crores from the people through petrol during COVID-19 pandemic, did Modi government spend Rs. 2 lakh crores to fight COVID-19 pandemic in our nation?” he questioned.
Govindas also asked, when will the Chief Minister produce the white paper of the donations received and its corresponding expenditure, the amount received by the state government from the Centre and the details of the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund on Covid pandemic during the first wave?
He further asked, what was the amount that has been spent from the state exchequer by the state BJP government to fight COVID-19 pandemic, both in the first and the second wave? What has the state BJP government done to give additional rice, medicines and vaccines, above the allotted statutory rights of the beneficiaries of the centrally sponsored schemes, for the entire population of Manipur during COVID-19 pandemic?
Reminding that it is only the Congress party that has felt the needs of the poor, the downtrodden and the needy people of our state, Govindas appealed to the people of the state to raise questions for their rights, to the BJP regime.
“The Congress always stands for the rights and the dignity of the poorest of the poor in our society,” the MPCC president lastly added.
On the other hand, Manipur BJP Vice President, Ch Chidananda while speaking to the media through a video clip released on June 16 said, “The allegation made by Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Govindas Konthoujam against Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren is baseless. Govindas should apologise to the public for trying to mislead the people with cheap politics.”
He said that it is unfortunate that the MPCC president on June 15 blamed the state chief minister of making ‘unforgiveable and morally dehumanising’ remarks on the poor and needy people in the state during COVID pandemic. He demanded Govindas give an unconditional public apology to the people of Manipur.
The allegation is baseless and the statement of the chief minister was appropriate in response to MPCC for its cheap politics while trying to mislead the people. Govindas should apologise immediately to the public as it is not the right time for cheap political debate amid pandemic. Moreover, MPCC does not have any concern for the difficulties faced by people during pandemic and they are trying to take political mileage with cheap politics, Chidananda said.
The MPCC president had also questioned the present BJP-led government where the funds collected as tax revenue during price hike in fuel went. However, the price of fuel had already been decontrolled by the government and the price of fuel has been controlled by private owned oil companies since the period of UPA government, he added.
He further said that the total debt of the previous state government was about Rs. 8,000 crores and the tax collected in fuel with the coming of BJP-led government from 2017 till present is much less to pay the dues of the then Congress government in Manipur.
Recalling an earlier statement made by the MPCC president that stated “we do not need rice but we need vaccine”, Chidananda questioned whether Govindas is superior than Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as on April 24 last year Sonia Gandhi had demanded free ration for each citizen of the country.
Spokesperson of state BJP, Johnson Elangbam also said that MPCC should not misinterpret the initiatives taken by the present BJP-led government in the state amid pandemic in order to gain political mileage. Various welfare schemes were delivered to the public for free during the pandemic but the statement of the chief minister never hurt the sentiments of the public.
Meanwhile, the continuing war of words between the two parties looks like pre-election warming up instead of addressing the topic of the remarks on whether the state’s people are dehumanised by shortages during the pandemic or if the people are gaining from government pandemic relief works.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics