BJP and RSS unleash a ‘pandemic of positivity’ to counter negative fallouts of the Covid crisis

“Positivity” videos, stories designed to evoke nationalistic sentiments and videos of a “hard-working” Prime Minister being unfairly targeted have flooded ‘WhatsApp’ in the last fortnight

BJP and RSS unleash a ‘pandemic of positivity’ to counter negative fallouts of the Covid crisis

Jagdish Rattanani

There is a steady echo of voices asking for the Prime Minister to step aside, many demanding that he take responsibility for leading us straight into the mouth of the pandemic to be devoured, and others asking that he make way for someone less divisive in steering the nation through these difficult times.

The demand has grown against the backdrop of a strong rebuff from the electorate in West Bengal and expectedly in Kerala, a poor showing in the panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh and continued toll exerted by the second wave of the pandemic – seen in funeral pyres burning round the clock, bodies found floating in the Ganges and the complete mess on a vaccination programme for the people of India.

Even the BJP’s ideological parent the RSS can no longer ignore the havoc caused by SARS-Cov-2; it has launched a series styled as “positivity unlimited”, which is actually an insensitivity that still had to make a token acknowledgement of the misery all around us. The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has come out accepting that we let our guard down, though it is all of us, not just the government, he said, and the road ahead should be evidence-based approaches.

The BJP has stepped up, too; the negative equity the PM has earned is being met with a “positivity” propaganda brigade that is taking its role rather seriously. As a result, a new pandemic called “positivity” is being unleashed to fight the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic. This is why a whole new set of “positivity” videos, stories designed to evoke nationalistic sentiments, and videos of how a “hard-working” Prime Minister is being unfairly targeted have hit the market as ‘WhatsApp’ forwards in the last fortnight or thereabouts.

All this transpires amid a total collapse, an underlining of the nation’s firm membership in the group of third world nations, left quite clueless and only receiving assorted help from across the world, and even that has not been transparently accounted for or deployed with any sense of efficiency.

Yet, the Prime Minister is unlikely to go with a graceful resignation. He will have to be pushed out of office, and this is unlikely to happen as long as his party and its ideological parent the RSS think they can ride the storm. They are equally unlikely to ask a different set of questions, demand accountability and become uncomfortable with reducing of the party to a person.

The plain fact is that all reins are in the hands of the Prime Minister, a complete capture of the party and its machinery, which must bend to his whims, which of course the BJP has done with a readiness that makes it quite common to call this a one-man show. Some would add one lieutenant, the home minister, who is known equally for his divisive exertions, and that makes it at best a “two-man army”, to borrow the words Shatrughan Sinha used when the actor-politician concluded that he could take it no more in the BJP and moved to the Congress.

The arrest of as many as 15 people and the registration of 17 FIRs in mid-May for posters put up in New Delhi critical of Modi by tying him to the export of vaccines when Indians don’t have enough, and the questioning of the President of the Youth Congress B V Srinivas in another instance, are only the latest cases that make the point.

Not only is criticism stamped out, Modi has the penchant to use his position for personal glorification, crossing all boundaries as can be seen from the suit he wore that had his name woven in, the re-naming of a cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, as the Narendra Modi stadium, done at the hands of the President of India, and his pictures on all vaccination certificates. As the historian Ramchandra Guha has helpfully pointed out, by naming a stadium for himself while in power, Modi sits in the company of leaders like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Saddam Hussein and Kim Il-sung.

Indeed, India today lives through an undeclared “Emergency”, in which constitutional limits are stretched, twisted and tested routinely, not under the umbrella of any extraordinary national exigency, but under a new normal that takes hold to terrorise citizens into silence. All of this will have long term implications for the future of Indian democratic traditions.

The fact is that the BJP has succeeded and grown well beyond its own imagination, helped of course by a free ticket offered by an Opposition that has been in disarray, and has been unable to capture the imagination of the people in the face of sharp, powerful and divisive campaigns by the BJP.

Now, the parivar sees the goal of a Hindu Rashtra within reach; 2024 is not too far away and this third time will open the roads to a very different India. The Ram temple is being built, and the gaming shows that one more election will be in the bag. The script is written. The timelines are set. Only the picture has to play out. But the pandemic and the response has come in the way. When your loved ones are snatched, when the economy is in the doldrums and when raising a voice can land you in jail, then this isn’t a pretty picture of Hindutva.

The handling of the pandemic has exposed the party for what it is – insensitive not only to one segment or religion but to all of humanity in the relentless pursuit of an agenda that has nothing to do with people and everything to do with power and control and domination. The ugliest of forces have conspired to tear down the magnanimity, the values and the openness that are at the heart of India’s spiritual traditions and religious practices that are said to be promoted while in actuality everything is being torn down. This much should be plain for anyone to see. In that sense, the resignation of the Prime Minister will provide welcome relief, but it will be a temporary reprieve because a pre-set agenda will take over, sooner rather than later.

(The writer is a journalist and a faculty member at Bhavan’s SPJIMR. Views are personal) (Syndicate: The Billion Press)

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Published: 17 May 2021, 4:00 PM