The government seems to be more interested in legally handling the political rather than the medical crisis of the Pandemic, writes REVATHI SIVA KUMAR, as she analyses the peculiar dichotomy of the response to the two.
PRIL was the cruellest month. But then again, was it? May seemed crueller for the junta.
In spring, the mad second COVID-19 wave tore into our lungs and lives and raged with about 4 lakh cases and 4,000 deaths a day. Some cheering voice say that there has been a slight dip recently. Yet India topped the world with a record number of fresh COVID cases and fatalities yet again in the past week.
April was especially cruel to the ruling party. It lost the assembly elections that it had strained so hard to wrest. Yet May got worse, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approval rating plummeted in popularity. So the main, looming fear of bad press shrouded the government, with a global loss of face and the Prime Minister’s hubris and governance failures exposed.
The pandemic thus created a medical and political binary, with both domains sharing a common factor – calamity. But while the Centre is gasping under the twin body blow on the nation’s health and on the party’s image, the warriors against both have diverged. The medical crisis is being battled by brave corona warriors, volunteers and the fragile health systems, while the political fallout is being addressed by a frightened government.
Two Faces Of The Crisis
There is a clear division of labour, as the implosion of health structures rips the government’s image apart.
In the war, people scramble for vaccines, oxygen, life or even just some modest space to die after crossing the mortal realm. The medical personnel are exhausted, states struggle with scant resources, and compete with others for deliverables. Social media is flooded with SOS messages, volunteers help others, and scamsters help themselves to ill-gotten gains.
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On the other hand, the government seems to be clearly jolted and is working very hard to escape liability for what essentially amounts to criminal negligence. Its own political problems are different. It is pulling every plug to salvage its global as well as domestic image, mainly the Vishwaguru brand that it has been assiduously attempted to cultivate for the last several years.
Identifying The Enemy
But the ruling party’s dilemma is that for once there is no ‘human’ enemy. No one in their usual rogue’s gallery – Muslims, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian National Congress, the Gandhi family, Didi, Judas, farmers, media – can be the face of the current pandemic tragedy.
Last year, the virus was actually a government ally, when it was shown to be riding on the Muslim Tablighi Jamaat, and was purportedly slain by the sword of taalis, diyas and exhortations to ‘Go corona go’. But today, the government seems to have become corona’s ally, even a lackey, through its Supreme Court-approved Central Vista project deemed as an “essential” service, following democratically organised huge elections and religious rallies that created human clusters of prey for the virus.
So the government cannot pretend that corona, the secular virus, is not a serial killer. It cannot evade blame for not arming the country against it.
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The National Executive Council, the apex decision-making body under the National Disaster Management Act, was constituted in 2020. Yet, the Council did not meet at all between November and March to strategize and take action. Nor did it analyse the predicament or come up with solutions even after March, when the second wave had begun to well and truly raise its menace throughout the country.
Image above governance
But the health crisis certainly kicked the ruling party to spring into action – just to prevent its own political death rattle. Hence, it has gone into propaganda mode, which it excels at. Legally, if not ethically, attacking and accusing anyone even remotely connected with the pandemic. It has called into action its lightning brahmastra of fake news, blaming the public for breaking rules, accusing opposition parties of non-cooperation, and the media for spreading negativity.
In ‘unforgivable West Bengal, All India Trinamool Congress workers granted the BJP an almost unexpected boon of attacks on its workers and headquarters. Hence, through a legally sanctioned return gift, the BJP flooded us with a misinformation campaign against “violent” Team Mamta.
The BJP has slammed foreign media for calling out the government’s inaction and parleyed with social media groups, such as Facebook and Twitter, to shut dissenters up. Officials from the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have pounded video conferences to rope in senior government officials who could silence critics. It also began its barrage of Hindutva messaging, spinning its “positive” act of restoring its image as the slayer of the ‘other’ and the protector of Hinduism.
The government’s worry thus goes beyond the health crisis triggered by the pandemic, the economic tragedy, or the deaths of people. It is frightened about its political interests jeopardized in the harvesting of human souls.
The Headless Chicken
Meanwhile, the victim of the appalling tragedy, the junta, is a clueless headless chicken. As it turns hopefully towards the government, it asks: Is the Centre planning some big-bang action in a deep, dark, secret board room? What are the steps it is plotting and planning to take? Will it lead citizens out of the bog?
Some people see that the thrust of the ruling party’s present efforts is not related to help the public as much as it is to make it appear like it is helping the public. They can see through the danse macabre and understand that tragedy might be relentless for people, but the panicky government working only to pre-empt its own demise.
Yet, many, many more who were originally stupefied is falling all over again for the lawful lying and religious calls. The vision of a Hindu nation, with Modi as its brand ambassador, is the intoxicating poison that again pulls volunteers to cheerfully step in – and die.
(Revathi Siva Kumar is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist, interested in exploring developmental issues. The views are personal.)