Updated: April 23, 2021 8:42:56 am
An editorial in The Indian Express (‘Disease politics’, April 20) complains that instead of fighting COVID-19, the BJP and Congress are fighting with each other. It does lament the uncouth retort of Union health minister Harsh Vardhan to Manmohan Singh for offering “constructive” suggestions to the Prime Minister, but then goes on to advise the Opposition parties and others not to take the moral high ground as they are also responsible for the spread of coronavirus.
The newspaper forgets that it is not a quarrel between rival political parties. That it is the government attacking, mocking the Opposition when it questions its decisions or indecisions and offers suggestions. The government, instead of inviting or welcoming constructive suggestions from the opposition parties, has invested all its energy in delegitimising them.
This is certainly not the way to build a national consensus to face a virus that is testing all our scientific understanding. Why did the government not call an all-party meeting or convene Parliament to seek advice and cooperation from the entire political class when the pandemic was knocking on our doors? How is the Opposition expected to contribute in this battle? All the resources are concentrated in the hands of the Centre in the name of disaster management. It controls data, which it constantly fudges and manipulates to keep the people confused. Its specialists and agencies, including the ICMR and NITI Aayog, have taken recourse to half-truths and outright lies. It lies in the courts, refuses to give people relief and wants them to manage the crisis on their own. Why should the Opposition be stopped from speaking on behalf of those who have no means to hold the government accountable? How fair is it to say that the Opposition spreads bitterness when it is just doing its duty?
This temptation to put two unequal players on the same plane must be resisted. The belligerent and the desperate cannot be compared. It was not necessary to mention the tail-end of the anti-CAA protests and the farmers’ protests to make a feeble criticism of the Kumbh Mela. The anti-CAA protesters didn’t take long to withdraw from the scene. Also, we cannot ignore their disquiet after the unequal citizenship law and the constant reference to the NRC had made their very existence uncertain in India. We heard many protesters telling us that it was better to die from the contagion than live the ignominious life crafted by a state hell bent on disenfranchising them.
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The central government should be held responsible for the hopelessness that the Muslims have found themselves in. Similar is the case of the protesting farmers. The deception of the Centre in using the pandemic to first promulgate ordinances which would change the lives of the farmers fundamentally has not been criticised enough. It convened Parliament when the pandemic was on the ascent and rushed through the farm bills without holding due deliberations. When farmers demanded their repeal, the government refused even a parliamentary discussion citing the pandemic as an excuse. And soon, the Centre had started congratulating itself for winning the battle against the virus! It is in this context that the farmers decided to risk their lives and launch an agitation.
How could one not have mentioned the markaz? Communal balancing has become a habit with a section of our society. After many court judgments and scrutiny by a section of the media, one should have the honesty to say that the Tablighi Jamaat gathering can in no way be compared to the Kumbh congregation. In the first case, the government had not put any travel restrictions and not issued orders to not invite people from outside India. Once the directives were issued, the markaz authorities complied with them. It is all well documented. Yet it has to be invoked to project a facade of “impartiality”!
The Kumbh event was an outrightly wilful criminal act. People holding constitutional office invited devotees to congregate, claiming that the holy waters of the Ganga would keep coronavirus away. When it turned into a horrific spectacle, the Prime Minister appealed to limit it to a symbolic act. It is an act of both omission and commission. In the case of Kumbh, the state is responsible for the spread of the virus and then abdication of its responsibilities when people started dying. Not to have a word of appreciation for Rahul Gandhi, who has been alerting the government since last year and was the first to cancel his election rallies, is unfair. To belittle him is unjust.
It is also a lie to say that in the first phase of the “battle” against the virus there was political unity. There was none. The government never consulted the state governments and refused to share resources with them. Donors were persuaded to put money in the non-transparent PM Cares Fund.
History will remember that the Indian government used the pandemic to fragment Indian society, turn sections of people against each other, and left people to fend for themselves.
This article first appeared in the print edition on April 23, 2021 under the title ‘An immoral balancing act’. The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University.
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