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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The other virus

With communal dog-whistle, BJP MP Tejasvi Surya makes virus’s job easier. This is last thing Bengaluru needs as it battles Covid

By: Editorial |
Updated: May 7, 2021 7:55:58 am
This nasty bit of profiling has led to social media paranoia about “terrorists” in Covid relief, and a vicious campaign against a seasoned bureaucrat of the minority community.

The Sars-Cov-2’s second surge is beginning to tell on Bengaluru, now the city with the highest daily caseload of Covid infections (over 20,000 cases a day for over a week). In this mounting crisis, BJP MP Tejasvi Surya has unearthed an alleged scam in the allocation of hospital beds for Covid patients. His scrutiny extends to his own party that runs both the Karnataka government and the city municipal corporation in charge of Covid management. Unfortunately, Surya’s whistle-blowing also involves a brazenly communal dog whistle. In a video released by the MP’s team, he is seen aggressively questioning officers in a BBMP war room — but by picking on 17 Muslim employees, whose names he reads out, in the 200-odd staff manning the facility. Two party MLAs, who accompanied him in this piece of political theatre, go on to ask if the war room was “a madrasa” or a “Haj Bhavan”. This nasty bit of profiling has led to social media paranoia about “terrorists” in Covid relief, and a vicious campaign against a seasoned bureaucrat of the minority community.

Even in peacetime, an MP, sworn to uphold the Constitution, crosses a red line if he publicly targets citizens on the basis of their faith. In this moment of crisis, when health workers and frontline workers of all religions and identities are battling to contain the pandemic, a communal agenda demeans their service and erodes public trust. It risks derailing the crucial work of containing Covid, and triggering a witch-hunt — as evident in the criminalisation of the Tablighi Jamaat last year. A divisive response to the second wave might help Surya momentarily to obscure the failures of the state and central governments, or the paucity of oxygen supplies that recently led to 23 deaths in Karnataka. But pitting citizen against citizen only makes the job of the virus easier.

In the midst of state failures and immense suffering, a lifeline for ordinary citizens has been the kindness of strangers. In Bengaluru itself, volunteers from various faiths have pitched in to cremate or bury the Covid dead when their own co-religionists shrank in fear. Each of them is an asset for the metropolis as it stares down the virus — and an example for Tejasvi Surya, who must refrain from communalising a public health emergency. If he doesn’t desist on his own, his party must persuade him to.

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