Amidst COVID catastrophe, Modi govt working hard to escape liability for what amounts to criminal negligence
It has called into action its lightning ‘brahmastra’ of fake news, blaming the public for breaking rules, accusing opposition parties of non-cooperation, and the media for spreading ‘negativity’
April was the cruellest month. But then again, was it? May seemed crueller for the country’s masses.
In spring, the second COVID-19 wave tore into our lungs and lives and raged with about 4 lakh cases and 4,000 deaths a day. Some cheering voices say that there has been a slight dip recently. Yet India topped the world with a record number of fresh COVID cases and fatalities yet again in the past week.
April was especially cruel to the ruling party. It lost assembly elections in states that it had strained so hard to wrest. Yet, May got worse, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approval rating plummeted. So the main, looming fear of bad press shrouded the government, with a global loss of face and the Prime Minister’s hubris and governance failures exposed.
The pandemic thus created a medical and political binary, with both domains sharing a common factor – calamity. But while the Centre is struggling under the twin body blow on the nation’s health and on the party’s image, the warriors against both have diverged. The medical crisis is being battled by brave corona warriors, volunteers and the fragile health systems, while the political fallout is being addressed by a somewhat-frightened government.
There is a clear division of labour, as the implosion of health structures rips the government’s image apart.
In this war, people scramble for vaccines, oxygen, life or even just some modest space to die after crossing the mortal realm. Medical personnel are exhausted, states struggle with scant resources and compete with others for deliverables. Social media is flooded with SOS messages, volunteers help others, and scamsters help themselves to ill-gotten gains.
On the other hand, the government is clearly working very hard to escape liability for what essentially amounts to criminal negligence. It is pulling every plug to salvage its global as well as domestic image, mainly the ‘Vishwa Guru’ brand that it has assiduously attempted to cultivate for the last several years.
But the ruling party’s dilemma is that for once there is no ‘human’ enemy. No one in their usual ‘rogue’s gallery’ – Muslims, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian National Congress, the Gandhi family, Didi, Judas, farmers, media – can be the face of the current pandemic tragedy.
The National Executive Council, the apex decision-making body under the National Disaster Management Act, was constituted in 2020. Yet, the Council did not meet at all between November and March to strategize and take action. Nor did it analyse the predicament or come up with solutions even after March, when the second wave had begun to well and truly raise its menace throughout the country.
But the health crisis certainly kicked the ruling party to spring into action – just to prevent its own political death rattle. Hence, it has gone into propaganda mode, which it excels at. Legally, if not ethically, attacking and accusing anyone even remotely connected with the pandemic.
It has called into action its lightning brahmastra of fake news, blaming the public for breaking rules, accusing opposition parties of non-cooperation, and the media for spreading ‘negativity’.
The BJP has slammed foreign media for calling out the government’s inaction and parleyed with social media groups such as Facebook and Twitter to shut dissenters up. Officials from the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have pounded video conferences to rope in senior government officials who could silence critics. It also began its barrage of Hindutva messaging, spinning its “positive” act of restoring its image as the slayer of the ‘other’ and the protector of Hinduism.
The government’s worry thus goes beyond the health crisis triggered by the pandemic, the economic tragedy, or the deaths of people. It is frightened about its political interests jeopardized in the harvesting of human souls.
Meanwhile, the victim of the appalling tragedy, the junta, is a clueless headless chicken. As it turns hopefully towards the government, it asks: Is the Centre planning some big-bang action in a deep, dark, secret board room? What are the steps it is plotting and planning to take? Will it lead citizens out of the bog?
Some people see that the thrust of the ruling party’s present efforts is not related to help the public as much as it is to make it appear like it is helping the public. They can see through the dense macabre and understand that tragedy might be relentless for people, but the panicky government is working only to pre-empt its own demise.
Yet, many, many more who were originally stupefied are falling all over again for the lawful lying and religious calls. The vision of a Hindu nation, with Modi as its brand ambassador, is the intoxicating poison that again pulls volunteers to cheerfully step in – and die.
Views are personal