The coronavirus pandemic had temporarily curbed the persistent communal sickness in Indian politics- or so it seemed, until news broke out this week that people in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz, the headquarters of the Tableeghi Jamaat, had been tested for the virus. What would have been a regular story in the non-stop corona coverage suddenly turned into unceasing, virulent and propaganda.
As the electronic media unleashed virulent news breaks, seemingly delighted at the opportunity, or rather feeling a respite from the indefensible specter of lockdown mismanagement, the airwaves and social media filled with dog whistling, denunciation, and indictment making it appear that corona didn’t originate in Wuhan, but in Nizamuddin. The absurdity was lost on many as the frenzy couldn’t keep away even centrists from jumping on the blame-the-Muslims bandwagon.
A large section of the media and IT cell peddlers have mastered the art of distraction. Every time the Government is questioned- this time it is about the incompetent administration of the corona outbreak and the unplanned lockdown- the lapdog media find an excuse to salvage it from the disaster. Sometimes, it is the insane Nehru-is-responsible type of disinformation, but mostly it is the dangerous scapegoating of Muslims. Demonising Muslims is the easiest of cards to play as it contains the potential to attract closeted bigots.
As the night unfolded, the media began running stories about how the religious gathering at Nizamuddin Markaz was responsible for spreading the coronavirus in India. So acerbic was the onslaught that Nizamuddin became Ground Zero of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the facts presented a completely different picture. An analysis of the timeline associated with the Nizamuddin event unravels the facile, if not fictitious, claims. It also exposes the role of the Government and various religious organisations.
Aap Chronology Acchi Tarah Samajhiye !
March 1-15: National and international members of Tablighi Jamaat attended a congregation at their Markaz in Delhi from March 1-15.
March 13: Government health officials were quoted as saying, “Coronavirus not health emergency”
In hindsight, why did the government issue Visas to the international members of the Jamaat as the first case of the Coronavirus pandemic was reported in India on 30th January, 2020?
The Centre should also have ensured necessary screening measures for foreigners at airports, and all travellers at international airports. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
March 15 - 24: On 15th March the congregation at Nizamuddin ended. Not all participants left though—not unusual, as no lockdown had been announced by the Government of India till 24th March—more than a week later.
March 24 and later: Once the national lockdown was announced, the participants acted responsibly and cooperated with the WHO team for necessary tests, etc.
On March 25, Markaz also wrote to the local SDM asking for help to move their members out as they were unable to return due to the lockdown.
On March 29, hell broke loose when the Telangana government reported six deaths caused by people who came back from Nizamuddin.
Sections of the media worked themselves into a frenzy. The narrative pushed was that Muslims are irresponsible, and Islamophobia is being fanned again. One is amazed at how quickly they forgot similar acts of irresponsibility by other religious leaders.
Transgressions the media chose to overlook (understand this chronology too):
March 14th, Delhi: The Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha hosted a Gau Mutra party to ward off the novel Coronavirus. About 200 people attended it. But the Delhi Government has not filed a case against Chakrapani Maharaj, the chief of the All India Hindu Mahasabha yet.
March 15th, Karnataka: CM, BS Yediyurappa ignored his own coronavirus advice and attended a wedding with 2,000 guests. He wasn't the only senior BJP leader there—Karnataka Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai and the MP from Udupi-Chikkamagaluru, Shobha Karandlaje, were present as well.
March 18th, Delhi: President Kovind hosted Members of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan over breakfast at Rashtrapati Bhavan. There was no social distancing or safety measures.
March 19th, Tirupati: The temple that hosts over 40,000 visitors finally closed its doors.
March 20th, Jammu: Around 450 devotees arrived at Jammu on March 20 to attend Vaishno Devi Yatra from Patna, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Haryana.
March 20th, Madhya Pradesh: Despite PM Narendra Modi’s advice, BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chouhan and workers gathered to celebrate the party’s return to power. A large crowd gathered at the BJP office and celebrated the occasion. They also lit firecrackers, which are harmful to lungs.
March 21st, Kerala: A traditional procession 'Arattu' was organised at Malayinkeezhu Sree Krishna Swami Temple in Thiruvananthapuram. Hundreds of people participated in the procession and violated warnings to avoid large gatherings
March 22nd, Pan India: A ‘Janta Curfew’ was announced by PM Modi. His supporters took out several massive rallies on the streets.
March 24th, Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh: Barely 12 hours after the Government of India announced a national lockdown, Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath did the Temple Run. He attended a Ram Navami ceremony in Ayodhya with around 20 people. Social distancing, masks and other protective measures were not followed.
March 28th, Anand Vihar, Delhi: Thousands of migrant workers walked on the railway track at Anand Vihar, in an attempt to go to their home towns in Uttar Pradesh.
It’s fairly obvious that the loose ‘social distancing’ practiced in India in the times of a pandemic are a farce. It’s strange, however, that the Delhi government has chosen to overlook all other transgressions in the state, but has filed a case against Maulana Saad Kandhalvi.
Despite the absence of official warnings or prohibitory orders, Tableeghi Jamaat and Markaz participants should perhaps have had the foresight to cancel the event, considering the havoc Coronavirus was causing in many parts of the world in February 2020.
It’s a pity they didn’t, but the fault doesn’t lie with them alone. It’s sad that in India, there seems to be an unwritten rule that Muslims should not invite blame through any action seemed to be irresponsible in retrospect—even if those actions can be defended legally.