Magar aapne kya kiya (but what have you done)?”, Union Home Minister Amit Shah asked “vipaksh ke log” while addressing a virtual rally for Odisha from New Delhi on Monday. Shah’s question to the Opposition was typical of his combative style. Yet it ill fitted the moment. This is a time when, amid an unprecedented public health emergency, the government is in the driving seat like never before — leading and coordinating the fight against a pandemic, making consequential moves that affect the lives and livelihoods of millions, including and especially the most vulnerable. Many of these decisions, by their very nature, are and should be open to debate — the length and stringency of the lockdown, the handling of the migrants’ crisis, the width of the economic relief package, the depth of its reach. Each and every one of them invites legitimate questions that must be asked by, among others, the political Opposition. And answered by, squarely, the government alone.
By trying to push the Opposition in the dock, instead, Shah confirms a worrisome pattern in the BJP-led Centre’s response to any questioning of its handling of the pandemic. It immediately and reflexively tries to deflect the blame, if not to the Opposition, then to the state governments, when it is not shifting the burden to the people with its overreliance on the language of “tapasya” and “tyag” (sacrifice). Laws framed to check the infection are weaponised to silence voices. Certainly, in states where it is in government, the Opposition must also be held to account. Here, even as a few non-BJP governments are visibly floundering, like in Delhi, West Bengal or Telangana, many are leading from the front. In Kerala, amid ups and downs, the Pinarayi Vijayan government is scripting a remarkable fightback against the virus, mobilising the state’s deeply institutionalised public health systems and well-trained personnel effectively. In Maharashtra, the Uddhav Thackeray government is coping with the heaviest case load in the country and facing the most acute shortage of hospitals by drafting in other public spaces, including parking lots, setting an example for other states dealing with an infection surge. In Punjab, the Amarinder Singh government prevented Nanded from becoming a major setback and today the caseload in the state is one of the slowest growing in the country. There are models for intervention in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, too.
Even where the Opposition is not in government, however, Shah should have little reason to complain. The national Opposition has been largely quiet, even quiescent. Rahul Gandhi’s video chats with global experts are hardly the stuff of adversarial politics. Indeed, the crisis, following a fractious Centre versus state face-off over the CAA, NRC and, later, the NPR, brought states and Centre together, cutting across the political divide.The PM-CM meetings have shaped the nature of the lockdown. In fact, if anything, the problem is that Shah and his government do not have an Opposition problem amid the pandemic. In a vivacious democracy, amid a crisis such as this one, government should be asked many more questions, it must be forced to give many more answers. Blaming the Opposition only makes the government look cussed and weak.
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