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Listen to the state

Cooperative federalism, critical to last year’s fight against Covid, will again be crucial

One of the important aspects of the country’s fight against the virus last year was the coordination between the Centre and state governments. Rising above party-level differences, they evolved synergies that helped tide over the shortage of critical resources like healthcare centres, testing kits, ventilators and PPEs, facilitated the framing of contact tracing protocols, and promoted knowledge sharing. Differences of opinion, such as those over designating containment zones or methods to count the Covid infected, were swiftly sorted out. Such cohesion has, unfortunately, been at a premium at critical moments in the past three months. The Centre and some Opposition-ruled states have not been on the same page over vaccine allocation, oxygen shortages have created discord and chief ministers have complained of not being heard at meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Two weeks ago, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren said that, in a telephone conversation, “the PM only spoke his mind”. Now West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has described Modi’s meeting with CMs, on Thursday, as “one-way humiliation”.

The BJP has accused Banerjee of “politicising the meeting”. The acrimony between West Bengal’s ruling party and its main Opposition force may well have been a reason for Banerjee’s outburst. But as PM Modi and several Union ministers have rightly pointed out earlier, cooperation between the Centre and states is elementary to the fight against the virus. Dealing with an adversary that has assumed a much more lethal avatar, calls for keeping the TMC-BJP conflict in abeyance and paying heed to the objections expressed by the West Bengal CM. Experts reckon that flattening the curve will be more exacting this year because the virus is constantly presenting new challenges — the black fungus disease, for example. Already, there are reports of a shortage of amphotericin B, the antidote to this fungal infection. Ensuring supplies will require the Centre and states to put their heads together.

During his meeting with state officials on Thursday, the prime minister talked of the significance of robust data and solid analyses to combat the mutating pathogen. He urged district-level officers to collect information on the spread of the virus amongst children and youth. For such knowledge to become a potent weapon in the fight against the pandemic, it must inform conversations amongst states, and between the Centre and states. For that to happen, both must reaffirm the spirit of cooperative federalism.

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