Prime Minister Narendra Modi today met with chief ministers of the 10 states worst affected by the ongoing Covid crisis – Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
But it was Arvind Kejriwal’s six-minute monologue on the pandemic situation in Delhi that became the talking point, mainly because it was telecast live on TV news channels through an ANI feed.
Delhi reported over 26,000 new coronavirus infections and 306 deaths on Thursday.
“There is a huge shortage of oxygen in Delhi. Will people of Delhi not get oxygen if there is no oxygen producing plant here?" Kejriwal asked Modi. "Please suggest whom I should speak with at the Centre when an oxygen tanker for Delhi is stopped in another state."
The Delhi chief minister was twice interrupted by Modi. When Kejriwal suggested that the prime minister’s “idea” of an Oxygen Express train be implemented to bring oxygen from Bengal and Odisha to Delhi, Modi said, “It’s not an idea. It’s already going on.”
The second interruption came towards the end of Kejriwal’s monologue, when he prayed for the departed souls to find peace. “This is against our protocol and tradition that a chief minister live telecasts a private meeting,” the prime minister, visibly annoyed, said, shifting in his chair. “This is not right and we must practice restraint.”
The chief minister’s address did not sit well with unnamed “government sources” who later told ANI that Kejriwal had “descended to a new low” and his monologue “was not meant for any solution but for playing politics and evading responsibility”. The sources added that “private conversations of PMs meeting with CM” had never been televised before.
Not private and not the first time
It is not true that such meetings are never televised or made public. The prime minister, for one, always makes sure his monologues are shared in public and run on TV.
For instance, Modi’s virtual meeting with all chief ministers on April 8, where he spoke for 30 minutes, was on social media. Parts of it were also on TV news channels.
A person familiar with Kejriwal’s live telecast told Newslaundry it was the first time that the Delhi CM’s feed was telecast live at a PM-CM meeting. “It happened once before, but not live,” the source said. “It was pushed by five to seven minutes.”
However, an Aam Aadmi Party leader refuted the central government’s claim that the meeting was private. “We did not receive any communication from the PMO that the meeting was private or that it could not be telecast,” he told Newslaundry. “In absence of any such communication, we treated it as any other meeting.”
The chief minister’s office also NDTV that on multiple occasions “similar interactions where matters of public importance which had no confidential information were shared live”.
It added: “However, if any inconvenience was caused we highly regret that.”
Telecast was CMO’s idea
According to a person involved in arranging the live telecast, the decision was taken by the chief minister’s office. “Usually, it is only the prime minister’s version that gets out in the public,” the source explained. “What the CMs say is hardly presented. The Delhi government wanted its own demands to appear before the people.”
The anxiety that drove the government to take the step, said the AAP leader, was the deteriorating state of healthcare in the capital, especially the lack of oxygen supply. “This needs to be in the public domain. We need to acknowledge the problem,” the leader said. “People in Delhi are dying on the streets. In the middle of all this, oxygen from plants in Faridabad and Panipat are diverted by other state governments.”
The leader added that when the surge was ascending, the prime minister and the home minister were busy campaigning in Bengal. “When you are an influencer, it is your responsibility to not endanger people’s lives,” he said.
Kejriwal isn’t the first chief minister to put out his bits of the meeting. In May 2020, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh had his conversation with Modi at a virtual PM-CM meeting to the media. Singh demanded greater autonomy for states to combat the pandemic.