Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Bed, bigotry and Islamophobia; The tale Of ‘Bengaluru bed scam’

Ehaab Qadeer

On 4 May, Bangalore South MP Tejasvi Surya held a press conference where he spoke about “widespread corruption” in the bed allocation system involving BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Pallike). As the young MP of saffron party spoke passionately about the faulty system, it looked like an ambitious young MP wanted to clean up the system. Tejasvi Surya, accompanied by his uncle and Basavanagudi MLA Ravi Subramanya, Chickpet MLA Uday Garudachar and Bommanahalli MLA Satish Reddy on either side, discussed the matter which, quickly unveiled his play tricks from classic BJP anti-Muslim playbook.

The Young MP outcasted 16 Muslim names and questioned the BBMP South Zone official, “on what basis were they hired?” Ravi Subramanya thundered, “Is this a madrassa?”, while the official on duty explained that people who applied were recruited. The WhatsApp forwards started circulating right after Tejasvi Surya’s press conference, where he explicitly shouted the 16 names. The video clip disseminated on various social media platforms with, various versions calling it a “List of terrorists working in BBMP WAR ROOM killing thousands of Bengalurians.” whereas a different version said, “They are ensuring no Hindus get bed easily.”

Surya, his uncle Sathish Reddy and Ravi Subramanya, questioned workers in the BBMP’s south zone war room on the presence of 16 Muslims among staff at the facility. “Who are these people, who recruited them, how were they recruited?” the video shows Surya asking. “Have you recruited people for a madrasa or for the city corporation?” it shows Subramanya asking. “Is it a Haj Bhavan list?” Reddy is seen asking.

The WhatsApp forwards added more to this anti-Muslim agenda and included Sarfaraz Khan, Jt. Commissioner Solid Waste Management. Who took it to Facebook, clarifying that he is no way involved with the War Room. While speaking to Maktoob, Jt. Commissioner Sarfaraz Khan said: “ I was completely shocked, because my responsibility is taking care of solid waste management and establishment of COVID Care Centers. The bed issues, control room issues, zonal war room issues….I have nothing to do with any of those. Our hearts, minds and conscience are very clear, we are working for the humanity, after what I saw in the newspapers I was demoralised, but the ocean of responses from people and basically from other community, so much support and they showed faith my work helped get through that tough phase”.

On being asked about MP Tejasvi Surya’s anti-Muslim remarks, he replied, “As an MP, I respect his effort towards verifying this scam, if there is something wrong, it is the responsibility of MP, MLAs and other officers to verify that. The only thing is blaming one particular community where there are so many people is hurtful. If the investigation finds those 16-17 people guilty they should be punished, this is against humanity, whichever religion does it, it is against human ethics. But without any basis, 214 people are there, using derogatory words was really not expected. Especially because I have a lot of respect for that young MP, have got lot of faith in him, youngster should he lead the country. If in the beginning itself, if he has such misconceived notion about other communities how will he represent people? You’re not representing one particular community, you represent all of us.”

Another epiphany which followed was that the 16 people named by MP Tejasvi Surya, were not even from the bed blocking team, among which one who had just joined the team, 3 days before. As per their claims, they were not removed 2 days before Tejasvi’s arrival. Most of them were still present when Tejasvi went to the room. Even more interesting 13 of the 16 had just joined 5 days before this issue happened.

The people who were targeted were young in their earlier 20s looking for a job, being bread winners and labelled as terrorist are now uncertain of their future, the police have threatened them a lot.

24 year old joinee tells, “He shouted at all of us. I didn’t know anything about this. I must worked only for 6 days. When he started ready names, I was devasted.”

The other member said that he feels humiliated and his family is worried about his future.

“We were fasting because of Ramadan, but we knew that people needed us and we continued working” he told Maktoob.

Dr. Rihan, Nodal Officer of South Zone Bangalore was also arrested after Tejasvi Surya’s remarks.

Kannada newspaper, Vijay Karnatak (owned by Times Group) reports, one of the BJP MLA, Satish Reddy who went to BBMP Covid war room with Tejasvi Surya to do so called “expose” and de-humanized Muslim, himself is sort of a kingpin in bed allocation scam.
Satish Reddy had planted his people and agents in the COVID war room and soon as ICU and ventilator would get empty in the private hospital, he would get to know through them, and book those beds through them. And then he’d allot it to whoever he likes. When BBMP officials raised an issue he fought with them. By doing so in Bommanhalli, he reserved 80% COVID bed for people, he wanted to give it to. Tejasvi Surya, has not been able to comment on this yet.

On 5 May, Outlook reported that 3 people were arrested for allegedly extorting Rs. 1.2 Lakh from the relatives of a COVID patient to get an ICU bed in a reputed hospital; police identified those arrested as Venkata Subba Rao, Manjunath and Punith.

Amid all this, it is unsurprising to see the motive of Tejasvi Surya as he wanted the people to get distracted from the real issues that is tormenting Bengaluru and the country during the pandemic has somehow succeeded.
Tejasvi Surya has deflected attention from the inaction and deplorable negligence of the Modi government, and Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa-led state government — both of which are led by BJP, instead of questioning his leader about the shortage of oxygen and vaccine. The lack of questioning on the issue on how the union government hasn’t given a single oxygen concentrator that has been received from foreign missions to Karnataka is concerning.

Karnataka High court has asked Modi Government to give 1200 MT of oxygen to Karnataka, due to about 38 deaths that took place only because hospitals ran out of oxygens, but ironically Modi Govt has moved to Supreme Court against it. Modi Govt has only been given 965 metric tonnes of oxygen at a time, when the state government (BJP) has projected a need of 1792 MT. Of this, 800 MT are from oxygen plants situated within Karnataka itself. It is to be noted use of liquid oxygen is controlled by the central government, and the state cannot exceed the cap even if the oxygen produced within the state. This should a message to all the visionary people of state who believed that if they have the same BJP Govt in Centre and the state, Karnataka would prosper.

The Union government has been equally if not deplorably callous with its vaccine policy which has allowed the crisis witnessed in all of Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The idea has never been simpler: when the BJP is responsible for (or irresponsible during) any disaster, pin the blame on the “other” —- be it Foreign Media, or our neighbours, or fellow Indian Muslims, whoever suits the situation best.

Ehab Qadeer is a journalist based in Delhi.


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