Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot ventured cautious criticism of his government today, urging the Congress to be "compassionate and sensitive" following the deaths of more than 100 infants at a state-run hospital in Kota district. Mr Pilot, who visited the facility in question - the JK Lon Hospital - said the Congress leadership in the state had to "face responsibility and consequences" and not resort to blaming the previous government - led by the BJP - amid growing criticism of handling of the crisis.
The comment comes two days after Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot suggested the number of deaths was good news given over 1,100 had died at the same hospital in 2016, when the BJP was in power.
"We have to fix accountability. After 13 months of being in charge it may not serve any purpose to point towards previous government. That was voted out... we were voted in. We have to face responsibility and consequences. People expect us to deliver," Mr Pilot was quoted by news agency PTI, adding, "The response could have been more sensitive and we should have been more compassionate".
On Thursday the Chief Minister, responding to the tragedy, had tweeted: "Government figures say child casualties in JK Lon Hospital in Kota have reduced to 963 this year from 1260 in 2015 and 1,193 in 2016 when the state was ruled by BJP. In 2018, 1,005 children lost their lives here".
Sachin Pilot, who also visited some of the families who had lost their children, reminded the government that some people were necessarily dependent on state-run hospitals.
"The underprivileged people are dependent on these hospitals. They have lost their children and do not accept the argument about how many deaths occurred earlier and how many have died now," he said.
The Congress, which has come under fire from opponents like Mayawati and Yogi Adityanath over the Kota deaths, responded by party chief Sonia Gandhi, who called senior party leaders to a meeting.
The state has also been served a notice by the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission). The human rights body has also directed the state to ensure that such deaths of children do not recur in future due to "lack of infrastructure and health facilities" in hospitals.
At least 10 of the infants who died at the JK Lon Hospital in the state died in a 48-hour period starting December 23, with a further nine dying in the last two days of the month. A three-member investigative team appointed by the state government admitted that some of the equipment was malfunctioning and there was a lack of resources.
The committee also claimed extreme cold weather made it tougher for babies already fighting for their lives. Kota saw temperatures drop to 3 degrees Celsius in the final week of December.
Tensions spiked between Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot last year after the Congress's poor performance in Lok Sabha polls in the state last year. The Congress was wiped out despite winning Assembly elections in 2018 and Mr Gehlot blamed Mr Pilot for his son's - Vaibhav Gehlot - defeat in parliamentary polls. Mr Gehlot, in turn, was accused of addressing rallies mostly for his son.
Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot also clashed in December last year, after state polls, with each eyeing the Chief Minister's post. Mr Gehlot won out after he convinced party leadership he could deliver results in Lok Sabha polls.
With input from PTI