This Article is From Dec 21, 2022

After "Suspend Yatra" Letter To Rahul Gandhi Over Covid, Minister's Jab At "Family"

Congress says "diversionary ploy" by "scared" BJP government as "Rahul Gandhi is all over social media"

New Delhi:

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, having written to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to ensure Covid "protocol" is followed in his 'Bharat Jodo Yatra', today said, "I cannot neglect my duty of stopping potential Covid spread just because one family perhaps believes it's above the rules... No one is entitled to special treatment."

Citing concerns after a spike in China, Mr Mandaviya, in his letter on Tuesday, had "requested" Rahul Gandhi to suspend his yatra "in the national interest" if "protocol" could not be followed.

Today he said "several people" have caught the virus after participating in the yatra — citing Himachal Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu as an example.  

The Congress, accusing the BJP of hypocrisy, has said, "We will certainly follow whatever protocol is put in place". India has no mask mandate at present and has removed other restrictions, too, over the past year. 

A Health Ministry-led expert group later in the day issued an advisory for use of masks in crowded areas. It's not binding, though, as the government maintains "there is no need to panic".

In the letter to Rahul Gandhi, Mansukh Mandaviya wrote: "I request [Rahul Gandhi] that Covid protocol, including use of masks and sanitisers, be strictly followed during the march and only those who are vaccinated be allowed to participate." 

The letter further said, "If this Covid protocol cannot be followed, then, in view of the public health emergency, and to save the country from the Covid pandemic, I request you to suspend the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' in the national interest."

Dated December 20, when the yatra was in Rajasthan, the letter referred to three BJP MPs from the state having written to the minister "to express concern". The yatra entered Haryana Wednesday morning.

In its clapback, the Congress cited PM Narendra Modi's recent poll campaign in Gujarat and the BJP's ongoing marches. "The BJP is taking out yatras in Karnataka and Rajasthan. Has the Health Minister sent a letter to them?" said Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera. 

"Please announce Covid protocols; we will follow them," the party further said. 

The expert group meeting took place later in the day, after which Mr Mandaviya took a dig at the Congress's Gandhis: "It is important to follow Covid protocols even if you belong to a certain family."

Speaking in Hindi, he added, "I'm only a small member of the team led by the pradhan sevak (reference to PM Modi), I can't question special people."

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury earlier said, reacting to the letter, that the BJP is "looking for excuses after seeing the success of the yatra".

"Was Modi ji wearing a mask when he went door to door to seek votes in Gujarat?" he remarked.

"The yatra has dented the propaganda the BJP spreads trough godi (pliant) media," he said, "But now Rahul Gandhi is all over social media. The yatra is being talked about, it's making a massive impact. That's why the Modi government has deployed (Mansukh) Mandaviya to use any excuse and try to turn people against the yatra."

Rahul Gandhi has not reacted.