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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The dip and the divide that made the fight against the coronavirus purposeless

The divisive Bengal election campaign and the Kumbh Mela saw people in large numbers ignore Covid-19 protocols. They revealed much about the nation’s misplaced priorities.


Updated: April 26, 2021 10:22:04 pm
Kumbh MelaThe disrespect of experts and medical sciences becomes a hallmark of society when religious events like Kumbh Mela are held without respecting Covid-19 protocols. (File photo)

(By Harshavardhan Purandare and Sandeep Pandey)

India’s premature declaration of victory against the coronavirus has proven to be counterproductive. The second wave of the pandemic has caught us unawares. The last one year of COVID-19 experience and learning has had no impact on our pandemic preparedness. Neither has our much celebrated “world’s largest vaccination programme” been effective. The Prime Minister has nothing new to say in his address to the nation. The people are leaderless.

What was our leadership doing in these times of institutional collapse? The Prime Minister and home minister were preoccupied with West Bengal elections, flaunting the crowds as their achievement. People have been carefree and in large numbers attended the Maha Kumbh Mela (the ruling BJP now refers to Ardh Kumbhs also as Maha Kumbh). The BJP has been promoting the myth that faith in religion is supreme.

The disrespect of experts and medical sciences becomes a hallmark of society when religious events like Kumbh Mela are held without respecting Covid-19 protocols. Bollywood director Ram Gopal Varma remarked on these changing mindsets when he said that it took six weeks to vaccinate 17 lakh people in Mumbai, but 35 lakhs took a dip in Ganga in just one day and wondered if we care more about next birth than this one?

We all know that coronavirus has exposed the existing weaknesses of our systems. The West Bengal election campaign and Maha Kumbh Mela have become two striking symbols of what is wrong with us as a society. The coronavirus has conveyed in Bengal that we have become a once-in-five-years election-only democracy and in Haridwar, it highlighted how India has become a religion-driven polity. Elections and religion are two things that make us feel so euphoric that we are willing to ignore thousands choking to death. Modi is a champion of elections and his party is a champion of religion. But both can do little when thousands gasp for breath as the pandemic rages.

Our Prime Minister is desperately trying to win Bengal rather than govern the country. The BJP has promised free Covid vaccines for West Bengal as if Modi is an aspiring chief minister of the state rather than the PM of the whole country. He is resorting to a common tactic used by traders. First, you raise the price and then deceive people by offering concessions. He and his party are doing what they are good at — attack opponents, divide society communally, run a technology-aided propaganda machinery spreading falsehood, advertise the PM at the expense of crores of rupees, keep on vacuously promising development to the poor and the middle-class, wean over leaders of the opposition parties before or after elections and so on. We now know all these as standard operating procedures. The elections are made into cheap entertainment games that people like to watch, rather than making people think about the present and future of the country.

West Bengal saw the worst communal violence ahead of Partition, but its politics never derailed on communal lines after that. In fact, in 1971 West Bengal gave refuge to close to a crore people who fled East Pakistan facing political persecution. The BJP, which talks of uniting the country, has successfully divided Bengali society on religious and caste lines as never before. The founders of our democracy would have never imagined that our elections will become a tool to choke democracy and alienate the last person on the social ladder. But we live in times when elections have become as sacred as Maha Kumbh. Who will dare to touch them? The Maha Kumbh of Bengal elections continues. The coronavirus becomes inconsequential for right-wing partisans. Then there is the Election Commission, which decided to hold the state election in eight phases spread over a month.

The narrative of modern India has been to shape a “forward-looking” society by breaking free of regressive traps. This journey has been a struggle for creating a progressive India against all odds. But a religious party comes to power by promising development and things start to slide backwards. Now we are made to believe that modernity and religion can combine together to create a political force for economic development. It does not matter if the CM of Uttar Pradesh wears a saffron gown, he can still be a modern ambassador of development. But when such leadership happens to rule with ideas that are rooted in outdated religious beliefs, the state starts to resemble a monastery.

Something is terribly wrong when images of thousands in water and lakhs without masks in the midst of a pandemic stop scaring us as a society. All this crafted propaganda can’t get us hospitals, beds, medicines and ventilators. Superficial power aspirants have been humbled by the collapse of the systems. India waits for a fresh leadership.

Till then, our democracy faces the dip and the divide. The dip in Haridwar and the divide in Bengal make the battle against coronavirus appear purposeless.

The writers are associated with the Socialist Party (India).

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