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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Not funny, Mr Kher!

Anupam Kher’s defence of the Centre’s Covid-19 management is a regurgitation of official proclamations.

Written by Ashok Lal |
Updated: May 9, 2021 11:47:00 am
People wait in line to exchange empty oxygen tanks for filled ones in south Delhi, India, on April 24, 2021. (The New York Times)

Dear Mr Kher,

You played a villain and a buffoon rolled into one in many a Bollywood film. Unlike those roles, your role as a writer of the piece, ‘No time for partisanship’ (IE May 1) has nothing funny about it — it is that of a pure villain. Actually, that of a henchman of the villains who have been instrumental in facilitating the biggest disaster that India has ever faced.

In your opening paragraph, you mention the success of India’s efforts in fighting Covid-19 from February 2020 to February 2021. Let me take you back to February 2020. The first case of Covid-19 in India was reported on 30 January. Rahul Gandhi’s impassioned appeal on February 12 to pay attention to the pandemic fell, as usual, on deaf ears. On February 24-25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an event for the then US President Donald Trump, attended by over a lakh of people. Later, riots took place in Delhi, and the hate speeches by BJP union ministers and spokespersons were not exactly a help in avoiding the carnage.

As late as mid-March 2020, the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said there was no health emergency. However, the Tablighi Jamat members, including foreign delegates with valid visas, were detained and held responsible for spreading the disease. A section of the media went to town with unsubstantiated allegations being presented as facts. The great peaceful Shaheen Bagh protest was killed on the pretext of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the government in MP was toppled by BJP and Covid-19 protocol was thrown to the winds. Then there were taalis and thaalis before a brutal lockdown was announced — absolutely thoughtless, sudden, and without any expert advice or consultations. It all but killed the migrant labourer.

You go on to say that “unity is different from accountability”. In your opinion, opaqueness of the PM Cares Fund, unclear vaccination policy — including vaccine exports, no communication or sharing of facts with the people — unlike every other country in the world, no consultations with the stakeholders, all these actually inspire unity! And when you advise the Opposition to “offer constructive feedback”, it would be nice if you would let us know whether anyone out there is even listening to any voice other than their own?

Apart from those who love and engineer riots and organise lynchings, let me assure you, Mr Kher, that the naked death of dance is not a source of joy for anyone. What has caused it? Lack of infrastructure and complete apathy mainly of the central government which has centralised all resources and decisions and whose methods are, to say the least, whimsical and undemocratic. I wonder if you find that the methods adopted by the BJP to suppress facts and data and substitute them with brazen lies is more acceptable than their dissemination to people at large. And what about the Kumbh, the incessant election unmasked rallies?

Nobody is “marketing” India’s misery. The contrast between the situation on the ground and official statements and a clueless administration is so great that it speaks volumes loud and clear. The real situation, despite official obfuscation, has come to be known nationally and internationally and it has been helpful. The international community has extended help and thereby shaken the complacent and insensitive government. Also, the common people of India are coming forward to help the miserable fellow citizens.

And then you come to “turning points”. All the assertions you have made in this section have one thing in common: Ends justify the means. BJP won the elections after forcing these “reforms” and therefore, they were right. Now, the BJP — the richest political party in the world — doubtless has abundant resources and has a very brutal and efficient election machine, with a master communicator at the helm. He has the power to sway the unsuspecting voter even though he has not been known to be truthful and correct. The Opposition, on the other hand is divided, shorn of funds and leadership.

Demonetisation struck a huge blow at the informal sector which accounts for over 80 per cent of the economy, led to deaths at the ATM machines and to a permanent hole in the lives of many. The BJP continued to shift the goals and till today has not been able to exactly substantiate the exact advantage. Yes, it was able to corner a lot of money which helped them win an important election and unleash Yogi on the people. GST as a reform was planned by UPA and was opposed by BJP when it was in the Opposition. The BJP’s execution of GST led to many complications and irregularities, which continue to affect the industry till date.

As for the CAA and NRC, their very constitutionality is suspect. Besides, it does not leave any doubt about the intention of BJP: the party does not consider the Muslims as equal citizens of the country, which of course is itself against the Preamble of the Constitution. To discriminate against the hapless refugee on the basis of religion is nothing to be proud of for a country which professes “Vasudev Kutumbakam”. Whether or not the Opposition succeeds in making it into a winnable election issue is not the point.

It is impossible to really even start talking about what you consider great handling of the migrant crisis by the Narendra Modi government. There is only one thing that is undebatable in this context: The migrant crisis was created by it. As far as you are concerned, you seemed quite convinced by the BJP’s assertions and advertisements of its schemes. One does not have enough space here to give all the related data and the continuing hardships of the migrant labour force and its unwillingness to come back to big towns to help them become bigger. Do take the trouble of going beyond the official proclamations.

Yes, Mr Kher, “a strong and healthy India is vital”, not only for global good but for the country itself. The country should not cooperate in the killing of its hard-earned and yet nascent democracy and the institutions that make democracy possible. The BJP’s hate politics and the government’s systematic demolition of the institutions of democracy are bound to have a long-term impact. Politics should not wait until it’s too late.

Lal is a playwright and poet; his play, Ek Mamooli Aadmi, won the Nemichand Jain award recently

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