What the BJP is very good at is manipulating public discourse. So now we’re in Ladakh cheering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden visit and his rousing speech to soldiers there. It doesn’t matter that he did not mention China even once in this inspiring speech even though he thanked our soldiers for their bravery against an unnamed enemy. Bravery is evidently not contagious.
Meanwhile, photo ops aside, little has changed as far as India is concerned. We don’t know where we are with China, since we cannot even name it at the highest level. We still do not know, officially that is, whether Indian territory has been invaded and snatched away by this unnamed entity.
The best we have done is to ban certain Chinese apps. If there is an argument that an economic blockade against a larger power – size-wise – is a way of holding your own, it would work better if we re-assessed our trade agreements. Banning a few mobile phone applications, the biggest of which have Indian offices, is nothing more than a gesture.
But as we well know, the trajectory of this government is like an Indian melodrama – all hand-wringing and posturing and almost no substance.
There’s always the shadow of the virus and the disaster that is the economy. But there are also all those problems that we had before the virus. There is Kashmir, which remains shadowed by secrecy and undoubtedly, in pain. In our mauled democracy Kashmir is a strong pressure point.
Have we forgotten the Delhi riots in the early part of 2020, all around the battle for citizenship? Within the charge-sheets filed by the Delhi Police, there is evidence of Whatsapp groups which boast of killing Muslims. Most groups appear to have formed around a movement to support Kapil Mishra, the BJP leader who has not been charge-sheeted for the various calls to violence he made.
Under the cover of the virus, India’s environment has been hit with several blows, some of which if uncontested, will be fatal. The environment ministry had worked hard to present a draft law which will dilute several provisions of environmental impact assessments. As it is, the ministry has recently given several permissions to destroy natural and protected reserves for a number of projects These will come up for questioning in court, but the intent of this government is clear.
In the treatment of COVID-19 itself, there are any number of questions and controversies. The most recent have to do with ventilators apparently procured under the controversial PM Cares Fund. There are allegations by hospitals that these ventilators are substandard, missing vital ports and have some problems with their software which affect their entire purpose.
Number of infected people rise every day. Parts of India open up and then lockdown again. Between the states and the Centre, the citizen gets squeezed. Undoubtedly, this virus has challenged the most advanced and riches nations in the world. But even so, after four months, a simple form of coordination between Centre and state could have been worked out. Between March and today, a format for private and public hospitals to treat payments could have been worked out. Payment schedules with insurance companies and public funding could have been worked out.
As far as the economy goes, “packages” from the government have been loan schemes. Since the Modi government pushed this idea of “self-reliance”, we have been told we don’t any need anyone’s money: we will do everything ourselves. Even imports will be of products made in India, said defence minister Rajnath Singh the other day. At the same time, Nitin Gadkari, Union minister for medium and small industries, says we don’t need Chinese investment because we are self-reliant, but we do need foreign direct investment also presumably because we are self-reliant? And just before Gadkari said this, India eased restrictions on pharma ingredient imports from China.
Either it’s that proverbial right-hand-left-hand problem or more frighteningly no one has a clue about what’s going on in this government, including this government.
No wonder what we’re left with are staged visits and spectacle. No wonder prominent TV anchors talk incessantly about this “greatest PM”. Because never in living memory has India been in greater need of simple competence. Not showmanship, not grandstanding. Just a little thought that can translate into action.
Yes, too much to hope for. I know.
(Views expressed are the author’s own)