New Delhi, April 21: Slamming the government's alleged lack of preparedness to deal with the second wave of COVID-19, and terming its vaccine strategy an "abject failure", Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday said the BJP-led Centre cannot divert blame this time as Jawaharlal Nehru isn't in charge, but Narendra Modi is and he should be protecting Indians.
The Congress general secretary also questioned the government over oxygen exports in the past year and alleged the central leadership has failed to deliver oxygen to its own despairing citizens.
In an exclusive interview with PTI, Priyanka Gandhi said constructive suggestions from opposition parties are being dismissed as politicisation rather than being accepted in the spirit that the nation is in crisis, every single life matters and, therefore, "all of us must stand together and do whatever we can to save lives regardless of our politics".
"They (government) are wasting time engaging in pettiness, making a minister respond to a letter addressed by a former prime minister who served this nation selflessly and with dignity to the present Prime Minister, Union Ministers are blaming state governments for increased oxygen consumption and central government press releases are targeting Opposition governments," she said.
Priyanka Gandhi's remarks come two days after Health Minister Harsh Vardhan responded to former prime minister Manmohan Singh's letter with suggestions on COVID-19 management, and alleged that the second wave of the pandemic was fuelled by Congress-ruled states as they were busy raising doubts about vaccines rather than vaccinating people.
Talking about the Congress' long-standing demand of universalization of COVID-19 vaccination and the government's inoculation strategy, Priyanka Gandhi slammed the government for exporting vaccine doses for a "PR exercise".
Thanks to 70 years of forward-thinking governance, today India is the largest manufacturer of vaccines in the world, she said.
"The Union government enabled the export of six crore vaccines between January and March 2021. A huge PR exercise was conducted with photos of vaccines arriving in countries like Mauritius, Guyana and Nepal being circulated. During this same period, Indian citizens received only three to four crore doses," she said.
"Why didn't the government prioritise Indians first. Why did the prime minister place self-promotion above the nation? In a state like UP with a 22 crore population, only 1 crore doses have been administered," the Congress general secretary in-charge Uttar Pradesh said.
Foreign agencies purchased vaccines from Indian vaccine manufacturers much before the Indian government placed an order and several large countries placed advance orders for vaccines twice the size of their population, she said, adding that India placed its first order only in January 2021.
The Modi government's lack of foresight has compelled India to become an importer of vaccines today and even now, their "vaccine strategy is flawed and discriminatory", Priyanka Gandhi said.
"Why are free vaccines not being made available to 18-45-year-olds? The new variants are supposedly even more virulent and many young people are affected. And why is the government allowing middlemen into the equation without price controls?" she said.
This is not a coherent strategy, it is an "abject failure", Priyanka Gandhi said.
Asked about Union minister Piyush Goyal's statement that states must keep oxygen demand under control, she said Goyal's "heartless comment" shows the "brutal coldness" at the heart of this administration.
"They see precious human life in terms of demand and supply. But then what can one expect from a government led by a prime minister who is continuing to hold public rallies and laughing on stage while lakhs of people are crying for help, the healthcare system is reeling under a massive pandemic and lakhs of Indians are fighting for their lives," she said.
On the shortage of medical grade oxygen and critical medicines like Remdisivir, she said that due to the very governments that Prime Minister Modi holds responsible for every ill in the country, India's capacity as one of the world's largest producers of oxygen was built over decades.
India produces 7,500 Metric Tonnes of oxygen per day, at the peak of the last wave the cumulative use of oxygen in hospitals across the nation was less than half this quantity per day, she pointed out.
"We produce enough oxygen, the government has simply not created the adequate logistics to supply it across India. It had the entire period between the first and the second wave to do this. It did nothing," she alleged.
India has exported about 9,300 Metric Tonnes of Oxygen in the last 12 months, Priyanka Gandhi said and asked who is responsible for the deaths due to lack of oxygen.
She said the state of affairs was "shameful" as one of the largest oxygen-producing countries in the world is being forced to import as its leadership fails to deliver oxygen to its own despairing citizens.
The government's Press Information Bureau (PIB) in the meantime tweeted through its 'PIB Fact Check' handle that the reports about oxygen export from India rising over 700 per cent in January 2021 from the year-ago level were "false".
"Industrial oxygen exports are being mistaken as medical oxygen. Annual exports were less than 0.4 per cent of annual capacity and no oxygen exports are happening now," it tweeted.
The Congress leader further alleged that India has exported 1.1 million injections of Remdesivir in the last six months and production of this crucial medicine has been reduced since December.
"Export has been stopped only five days back, Why? Who can they shift the blame onto? Jawaharlal Nehru isn't in charge, Narendra Modi is. He should step up to the plate. He is the Prime Minister. It is incumbent on him to protect Indians, to give them a sense of safety and to fight this battle from the front," Priyanka Gandhi said.
The BJP and Prime Minister Modi have in the past criticized India's first prime minister Nehru over several issues like Kashmir and China, to which the Congress has hit back, accusing the ruling party of trying to cover up its own failures by blaming previous Congress governments and prime ministers.
Priyanka Gandhi asserted that the Congress is firm in its commitment towards the people of India to remain constructive and supportive during this crisis.
"We have not and will not politicise this unprecedented human tragedy under any circumstances. We will, however, continue to push the government to act, we will continue to raise issues that need to be addressed urgently to save lives, they can label us in whichever terms they like," she asserted.
"We fully understand our responsibility towards our country. Manmohan Singh Ji, the Congress President (Sonia Gandhi) and Rahul Ji have all offered our party's constructive cooperation to the prime minister time and again," Priyanka Gandhi added.
India has been registering over 2 lakh COVID-19 cases daily for the past few days. - PTI