Updated: May 11, 2021 8:39:37 am
I write to you as a citizen of this country. One with socio-political views divergent from yours. You and I may argue irreconcilably, but we should still be able to walk away with mutual respect because humaneness must be a common ideal. I am writing to you in this spirit of co-citizenship, believing that all of us love this land: India, that is Bharat.
This country is at a precipice. Thousands are dying every day; there are many beyond our line of vision who are not even counted among the dead. We struggle to keep even the healthy safe. This is unprecedented and we need to plow a way through this darkness. This means that we must recognise our follies and point to the gross neglect of duty that has most definitely worsened our situation. This cannot wait for a post-Covid-19 analysis because a course correction is urgently needed, and now. In battling the pandemic, it was — and is — up to us to act in a manner that is caring and scientific. People’s lives are at stake.
Narendra Modi is not just your party leader; he is our prime minister. This constitutional role must matter. You have to see him as the leader of the entire nation, not as a protector of your party’s political beliefs. Indulge me, just for a moment. Put aside the fact that Modi is the most powerful leader your party has had in decades, or that he gave your party a complete majority in parliament, not once, but twice.
If Modi belonged to any other political outfit, would you have stood by in silence as he forced thousands of migrant workers to walk and cycle across the country for weeks, without even food, just to get back home? Would you have not accused the prime minister and his government of utter mismanagement and inept planning? Would you have not asked questions of a prime minister under whose watch the vaccination programme has been stuttering, leaving the people at the mercy of a few private companies? Would you not have been aghast that oxygen is unavailable in the capital city? Would you not have been shocked that the Supreme Court has had to direct the central government to supply oxygen?
Would you have not demanded that the government investigate the discrepancy in Covid data that is coming out of some states? Would you have not said that the unscientific nature of governance has led to the ignoring of crucial scientific advice? And in all this mayhem, ministers are busy with perception management and blocking social media commentators. The government, meanwhile, is busy building the Central Vista in the middle of a pandemic.
Forget the controversial manner in which the state assembly elections were conducted, was it not shocking to hear the prime minister celebrate the huge crowds that gathered to hear him speak even as India’s infection numbers were peaking? With him setting such an example, can we blame the citizens of this country for not following Covid protocol?
I cannot believe that you actually buy the argument that the international media is only interested in tarnishing our reputation. The pictures, data, stories are true; those are real bodies burning on pyres. People are struggling to breathe, beseeching help — not of the government, but of other citizens. Aren’t you shaken? You and I have lost so many friends in this pandemic, and yet you are unwilling to say that the Union government is responsible for all that is unravelling. Are you more interested in safeguarding your leader’s image than saving lives? It is your party that speaks of internal democracy. Why don’t we see that in action, especially now?
Of course, state governments are also responsible for dereliction of duty, but the management and responsibility for handling the Covid-19 pandemic lies with the Centre. In March 2020, the Union government called in the Disaster Management Act, 2005. In all the months that followed, the principle of co-operative federalism was nowhere to be seen; the Modi government has only been adversarial. The Centre is far more powerful than any state, and the responsibility for building bridges lies with it. Not once have we heard the prime minister speak in that spirit; he only talks down to his colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
He repeatedly said that he will protect every citizen, that he will take responsibility for all his actions. Having come from a modest background, he claimed to understand hardships of the people who occupy the lowest rungs of India’s social ladder. But all we hear is a man who infantilises us. In his Mann Ki Baat, he responds only to pre-cleared questions, and participates only in curated media interviews. Why have you not asked him to hold an open press conference? Every world leader is facing the press, except Modi.
When Covid-19 hit our shores, Modi could have brought all political parties under one roof and shared the burden of decision and action. The pandemic is a once-in-a-century occurrence that no one could have planned for, but we could have fought it together. We, the citizens, have forgotten that we elect members of parliament — not political parties. Modi could have shown the statesmanship that you want us to see in him.
There will be no perfect time to ask difficult questions. Every day that you remain silent, more people die. We now know that, without urgent intervention, without immediate, productive and positive administration action, we will see worse horrors.
If you care for India, you will speak up now.
This column first appeared in the print edition on May 11, 2021 under the title ‘Dear members of BJP’. The writer is a musician and author