Case of Centre ‘Targeting’ Bengal, Not Gujarat: A Reality Check

While both Gujarat and Bengal have dismal COVID statistics, why is the Centre focussing more on one than the other?

4 min read
The Case of Centre ‘Targeting’ Bengal, Not Gujarat: Reality Check

“When something happens in Gujarat or an ordinance is declared to snatch away the rights of the labourers in Uttar Pradesh, why don’t you question them? Why are you targeting Bengal and its people by sending notices?” thundered an exasperated Mamata Banerjee at PM Modi’s e-meeting with chief ministers of all states on 11 May.

While West Bengal has been making national headlines for weeks now, for its low testing rates, and earlier, for trying to suppress COVID data, the national outrage isn’t quite the same for Gujarat – where COVID statistics are equally dismal, if not worse.

COVID Stats: Bengal Vs Gujarat

West Bengal reported its first COVID-19 positive case on 18 March. while Gujarat reported its first, a day later, on 19 March.

Nearly two months later, Gujarat has the second-most number of positive cases and deaths in the country after Maharashtra. What is noteworthy, though, is that it also has the worst Case Fatality Ratio (CFR) or mortality rate in the country after Bengal.

This, and the Centre's selective outrage over Bengal, while ignoring Gujarat, has caught the attention of many.

Like in Bengal, Gujarat’s high CFR is related to low testing. As of end-April, Bengal was testing at a dismal 200-odd tests per million and had about 650-plus positive cases.

Two weeks later, as of 12 May, Bengal is testing 585 per million and has a total of 2,173 confirmed COVID cases.

Compare this to Gujarat, which at the end of April was testing higher than Bengal in absolute numbers (at 721 tests per million) but had seven times as many COVID positive people at 4,395 positive cases on 30 April.

Both states are being blamed for not increasing their testing in the same proportion as the increase of cases.

Similarly, while Bengal was criticised for fudging death numbers and not releasing data on how many co-morbid deaths the state saw, Gujarat, which had stopped giving out age and comorbidity details of its dead since 5 May, has not been subjected to any such criticism.

At 59 per 1,000 confirmed cases, Gujarat’s CFR is much higher than the national average of 33.

Again, while this does not absolve Bengal of low testing or suppressing data, it does raise questions on why of the two states with similar problems, only one is constantly grabbing the Centre’s attention.

Another stark problem in Gujarat, unlike Bengal, is that a significant burden of their death toll is young people. Another significant portion are people who had no underlying health conditions.

According to a report on The Indian Express on 30 April, nearly 18 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the state did not have any major underlying health condition. By 6 May, this number stood at 27 percent. Around 10 percent of those dead were also below 41 years of age, said the report.

This, experts say, points towards inadequate healthcare infrastructure in the state, which is being unable to manage its huge caseload. This too, has largely escaped public debate, while the Bengal government has been severely criticised (and rightly so) for lapses in infrastructure like providing doctors with torn raincoats instead of PPE kits.

Centre’s Treatment Of Bengal Vs Gujarat

While the statistics for both Gujarat and West Bengal are equally morbid, the central government’s approach to both has been quite varied – raising questions on why its response to the COVID crisis is also being done through a political lens.

It is evident to those monitoring the situation in both states that while the Centre’s response to Bengal has been more of admonishment, its response to Gujarat has been that of a parent willing to help out a troubled child.

A case in point is when Bengal, and not Gujarat, was on the list of states where the Centre sent its first batch of COVID Inter Ministerial Teams. As two teams landed in Kolkata, on 21 April, Mamata complained that she was informed of the same only three hours after they’d landed in the city.

Faced with flak for sending these teams to only Opposition states (except Madhya Pradesh), the Centre requisitioned a team for Gujarat (along with two other states) on 24 April.

However, unlike in Bengal, the actions of the Central Team in Gujarat were not publicised.

While the IMCT (the name given to the central team) wrote repeated letters to the Mamata government (strategically leaked to the media) on lack of cooperation from the state government, lack of data provided and severe lockdown violations, its findings on Gujarat are yet to be released in the public domain.

While the committee held the Bengal government accountable for its laxities, it shied away from exposing these laxities in the Gujarat government.

Over the past few weeks, BJP leaders like Swapan Dasgupta, Kailash Vijayvargiya, Babul Supriyo and even IT Cell Head Amit Malviya have trained their guns on Bengal. The national media, too, has followed suit.

But many, even Mamata’s detractors who believe that the Bengal government should be held accountable, are now also questioning if the Centre is showing step-motherly treatment towards the state.

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