Lucknow: Struggling to keep itself afloat in Uttar Pradesh after being decimated in the Assembly polls, the issue of alleged oxygen shortage at a Gorakhpur hospital seems to have galvanised the Congress.
The Congress grabbed the opportunity by being the first Opposition party to reach ground zero the very next day after the death of children in the BRD Medical College hospital hogged media headlines. The sudden buzz in the Congress camp, however, did not go down well with the ruling party, with none other than chief minister Yogi Adityanath training his guns at Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, telling the "yuvraj sitting in Delhi" that the eastern UP town was not a "picnic spot".
However, making it clear that the party was not raising the issue with elections in mind, Congress spokesperson Dwijendra Tripathi told PTI on Tuesday that it has been highlighting the problem prevalent in Gorakhpur and adjoining areas for decades.
"The Congress is not aiming at drawing any political mileage from the tragic death of innocent children. It was only trying to give voice to sufferers and at the same time waking up the government from its deep slumber," he said.
Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Ajay Kumar Lallu said his party was definitely not going overboard as "it is a matter of public importance and all that we are doing is for the sake of peoeple's welfare".
"We want effective check of the disease and proper arrangements to ensure that such tragedies do not recur," said Lallu, who himself comes from one of the worst-affected Kushinagar area.
As the news of the tragedy spread like wild fire, the top party leadership lost no time in taking on the BJP government, both in the state and at the Centre head on.
Rahul Gandhi rushed to Gorakhpur to meet the bereaved families and led the attack terming the incident as a "government-made tragedy" which the chief minister need not try to cover up. Rahul also described it as a "national tragedy".
"I have come to this hospital earlier too and told Prime Minister Narendra Modi through the media that this hospital needs money as there are too many shortages, but no action was taken," he said.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad had set the pitch when he rushed to Gorakhpur to meet patients and enquired about their well being.
"This incident took place due to the laxity on the part of the state government. We hold the state government responsible for it. The health ministers and health secretary must immediately tender their resignation. The doctors should not be blamed for this," Azad had demanded categorically.
The incident which took place in the 'karma bhoomi' of the chief minister provided fodder to the Congress which is virtually down in the dumps for decades.
"The chief minister blames lack of hygiene as the cause for the spread of disease. Gorakhpur could not be cleaned despite the fact that the Lok Sabha seat was represented by Adityanath five times and even after three years of prime minister's Swachch Bharat Mission," UPCC president Raj Babbar asked recently.
Babbar, who has already vowed to continue the struggle for the victims till they get justice, has courted arrest twice in the state capital while holding demonstration on the issue. Trying to stress that his party was not aiming to draw any mileage from the tragic death of innocent children, Babbar also said that his party will take up constructive works to help people in the affected areas for which it will donate ten ambulances to the BRD Medical College hospital.
These ambulances will not only visit different areas for preventive programmes, but also ferry serious patients to the hospital.
Besides, around 100 Seva Dal workers, in coordination with the district administration, will carry cleanliness drive to check the disease and the medical cell of the party will set up help desk for the benefit of people, Babbar said.
He had also attacked the BJP government saying perhaps the death of children is not important enough for them and said his party was not raising the issue with elections in mind.
"Those who died there are the future of the country...though we are not in the government we have to raise the voice of the poorest of the poor who are not getting justice," he said.
However, stung by the sudden flurry in the Oppsition camp vis-a-vis Gorakhpur incident, Adityanath had said the 'yuvraj' (prince) sitting in Delhi cannot make Gorakhpur 'a picnic spot'. Hours before Rahul's Gorakhpur visit, Adityanath had said at a cleanliness campaign there, "I feel that the shehzada (Akhilesh Yadav) sitting in Lucknow...yuvraj (Rahul Gandhi) sitting in Delhi will not know the importance of this campaign. They will come here to make it a picnic spot, we cannot permit it."
Tripathi retorted that it was "height of insensitivity".
"How can someone stop a person from expressing sympathy," he said, adding only BJP leaders could do this.
A total of 60 infants admitted to the government-run facility had died in a span of 48 hours, allegedly because of the oxygen supply being stopped due to pending payments to the supplier, a charge stoutly refuted by the state government. The government has maintained that the children died due to different illnesses, including Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and there was no shortage of liquid oxygen.