Updated: April 28, 2021 8:42:23 am
An anguished High Court says that perhaps the Election Commission should face murder charges. Another HC asks if Delhi should be handed over to the Centre, a third tells Gujarat to come clean on data, a fourth gives Karnataka a list of things to do immediately. State after state faces indictment in the courts but it’s the Centre where, amid climbing distress, the evidence of fiddling is starker. As many as 11 empowered groups were set up in March 2020, as a specific response to the pandemic, when COVID cases crossed the 1,000 mark. Touted as empowered and autonomous, they were to act as quick response teams, ensure coordination between the Centre and states on specific tasks: From quarantine facilities to availability of hospitals and essential medical equipment. Today, with daily cases climbing over the 3 lakh mark, these empowered groups are conspicuous by how little they did with their power. Like others in charge, they seem to have ignored or not responded effectively enough to the several red flags before the pandemic’s fierce second surge tore through a creaking health infrastructure. Like others, these groups stand guilty of wasting the nearly five-month lull in the public health emergency, from mid September to mid February. And then, of failing to step up again when the second wave rose like a wall within days — on April 4, India crossed a case load of 1 lakh cases daily and by April 22, it had risen to 3,32,730 cases.
April 22 was a notable day for another reason. It was when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, till then visibly immersed in the West Bengal poll campaign, addressing crowded rallies attended by mostly maskless men and women, cancelled his election meetings scheduled for the next day to supervise the response to COVID’s second wave. And an hour later the Election Commission banned road shows and public meetings of over 500. On April 22, then, two dismal messages were sent out. One, that it took the case load to surge so completely out of control for the PM to pull himself away from the over-long election campaign. And two, that it took the PM’s decision for the EC to act. Both these messages accentuate the spiralling sense of political and institutional abandonment in the pandemic’s second surge.
Of course, there was a larger sense of complacency — as a series of reports in this paper has revealed, essential emergency infrastructure created in the states in response to the first Covid wave withered away or was dismantled by the time the second wave came. But most of all, the Centre must take stock of its inattention and failures — because it was in charge and because it still is. To ask it to do so is not to peddle negativity. It is not to, as the new RSS sarkaryawah has said, to be part of “destructive and anti-Bharat forces”. Winning elections is important, but the BJP must know that no outcome on May 2 can provide it an alibi vis a vis the national imperative. And the EC, now prodded into action by the high courts, must recognise that its reputation of integrity and independence will not endure on its own — it needs to work for it, especially in a crisis.
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