Updated: June 14, 2020 11:12:02 am
And, he is back, as full of bluster and bombast as ever. I speak, as some of you may have guessed, of our Home Minister. He has been so invisible since the pandemic arrived that Delhi’s pulsating political grapevine has been abuzz with rumours that he was seriously unwell. There have also been rumours that he is no longer the Prime Minister’s favourite minister on account of the bungled handling of a long list of domestic issues. Remember how it was Amit Shah who, with great aplomb, piloted in Parliament the laws that amended the citizenship Act and abrogated Article 370.
He was riding so high that he imposed his will brutally on the Kashmir Valley. There were months of curfew and an Internet shutdown that has become famous for being the longest shutdown ever. He made promises of the dawning of a golden new era of prosperity and development. But, as we approach the first anniversary of Kashmir’s altered status, all we hear is bad news from the Valley. Violent, jihadist groups seem to have so revived their horrible activities that last week a Hindu sarpanch, Ajay Pandita, was murdered despite his having pleaded for his security to be enhanced. A video clip of his pleading for better security went viral after he was killed. There has been no comment so far from the Home Minister who is directly responsible for law and order in the new Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Since his reappearance, Mr Shah has given a series of television interviews. But, they appear to have been stage managed so as to allow the minister to get away with half-truths and lies. The subject of the protests and violence that swept across the country after the CAA barely found mention in them despite the protests being a direct result of the Home Minister’s speeches. In these he repeatedly warned that the CAA was only a first step towards creating a National Register of Citizens. He has never been asked about these speeches or his ugly choice of words like ‘termite’. It was the minister’s words that alarmed Indian Muslims and made them fearful about proving their citizenship. So, they took to the streets in protest. The violence and chaos that resulted were because of administrative ineptitude.
Since I have been accused of shielding Modi by shifting blame, I want to make it clear that I believe his administrative skills are being rightly questioned. He became Prime Minister with more administrative experience than any other, so nobody doubted his ability to govern. Why then was there disruption and economic collapse before the pandemic? Covid-19 appears only to have dealt the final blow. His devotees assert that if Modi had not been Prime Minister, there would have been bodies piled high in the streets of Delhi and Mumbai. We do not know. What we do know is that serious mistakes were made.
What reason was there to give four days notice before declaring a Janata Curfew and just four hours before imposing that first nationwide lockdown? The Prime Minister has not given any interviews since the pandemic arrived or he would have to explain other mistakes of which the most serious was the inability of his administration to anticipate the exodus of migrant workers from our cities. The Home Minister has spoken for him, and it is sad that he lied.
In one of his recent interviews he said that the idea behind giving no notice before that first lockdown was to try and keep migrant workers from carrying the virus back to their villages. But, then he told his first lie. He said that full arrangements had been made for the suddenly homeless and jobless workers to be provided shelter and food in the cities. Not true. Or they would not have been desperate enough to start walking home. The second lie he has repeated more than once is that full arrangements were made for them to be transported home. Not true.
Instead of lies and half-truths, it would be better for the Prime Minister and his ministers to have the humility to apologise for the terrible suffering that millions of Indians have endured. They suffered because of administrative failures on a criminal scale. Having had nearly two decades of administrative experience before becoming Prime Minister, these failures of Modi’s administration are both surprising and very worrying.
Now that India is opening up without ‘flattening the curve’, we are going to need the Prime Minister to really lead. He could begin by implementing those reforms that promise to make the revival of the economy easier. It is hard to remember a bleaker moment in recent Indian history. Our healthcare services are showing signs of collapse despite the lockdowns. And, it is going to be a long while before the wheels of the economy begin to turn at enough speed to create new jobs and bring back those that have been lost in the past three months.
It is a time that will test Modi’s leadership and administrative skills to their fullest. This is why it is unfortunate that with the return of Mr Shah, we are beginning to see games of dirty politics being played in states not ruled by BJP governments. There are ugly stories from Rajasthan and murmurings from Maharashtra. This is no time to start toppling state governments.
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