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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The cry on the wall

Inability of the elected, right from the top, to communicate in a language of empathy adds to the pandemic's daily toll

By: Editorial |
Updated: May 17, 2021 8:44:38 am
The inability of government and leader to find the language of empathy for the angry and grieving adds to the pandemic’s daily toll.

Finally, an official admission that the Covid second wave has coursed through villages, cutting a brutal swathe across the country’s most ill-prepared health network. The Centre released Sunday a list of guidelines for rural management. And yet, a visible hole seems more gaping every day. Barring a few, the country’s elected have gone missing from public spaces. Switch off Twitter, and where’s the Cabinet, the 700-plus MPs, the MLAs? The appearance of absence begins right at the top. During the milder first wave last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not just in charge, he was seen to be so too — in March-April 2020, he addressed the nation four times in four weeks, announcing a strict national lockdown even if it earned him criticism, and also talking the people through the challenge that lay ahead. Of course, there’s a crucial difference in that moment and this one. Then, the battle against a common enemy had just begun. Now, the second wave has taken a devastating toll after catching the government unawares and unprepared. Any attempt to reach out to the people now, therefore, would require the leader to first acknowledge their suffering and pain. The will to win, such an essential part of the PM’s vocabulary, is still needed in a battle that is still being fought, but at this point it must also make space for the will to empathise. The inability of government and leader to find the language of empathy for the angry and grieving adds to the pandemic’s daily toll.

Sure, lending a shoulder when there’s not much else to lend is a political challenge — as a Union minister told this newspaper, people need results, not speeches. Speeches don’t work but a sincere conversation might, and that’s where leadership makes the difference. Walking the ward or holding the hand matters. But this is a regime that, despite two spectacular victories, has boxed itself into believing that every criticism is a sinister plot by the losers. Surely, the BJP’s bean counters don’t need to know the voting preferences of each of the 36 lakh active cases to understand that the spike protein knows no politics. Yet, in the week in which the Centre admitted that as many as 533 of the country’s 700-plus districts reported a test positivity rate of 10 per cent, the BJP tweeted a list of “truths” to counter the “narratives” being spread by “vested political interests”. The party refuses to see the big picture: When homes across the country are grieving their dead, when the absolute number of beds decides if your loved one gets one, trotting out percentages doesn’t bring comfort. It’s salting the wound.

As this newspaper first reported, Delhi Police, which reports to the Union home ministry, has arrested 25 people for allegedly pasting posters with comments critical of the PM on the vaccination drive. Many of those picked up include daily wage labourers and jobless youth, putting up banners to earn a living. And even if it was at the behest of a party, so what? They were the raised voices of the people — seeking help, expressing protest, asking those they elected to listen, and to act. The people’s representatives must read the cry on the wall.

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