Western newspapers have suggested that four nations that have handled the Coronavirus crisis very badly are the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and Brazil. They also think they know why – all four nations are governed by not just right wing parties but also alpha males who tend to think their machismo is a euphemism for strong leadership – Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin and Jair Bolsenaro – while their so-called strength rooted in false notions of macho and ideology is actually a great and debilitating weakness.
I think that is quite true but I wonder why those writers did not think of India, perhaps having the most blatant of all right wing leaderships anywhere in the world and a country whose handling of the Coronavirus crisis has been worse, perhaps the worst of all nations in the world.
I have come to the conclusion that right wing leaders, even before the Coronavirus crisis, have not been able to govern their countries with any semblance of intelligence, efficiency,compassion, courage and conviction because they have only ideology at the heart of their politics – inciting violence against minorities and migrants in your respective countries is neither macho, nor courageous, only the worst form of school-yard type of bullying and poltroonery or cowardice.
You need to have a heart to be able to develop the courage of both conviction and compassion that makes you able to walk the extra mile to take the chance to effect some extraordinary and lasting solutions to problems facing the people. So it is not surprising that it is the socialist and left-of-centre governments, whether in India or abroad, who have managed the corona crisis much better than these alpha male right wing leaders. Like Angeia Merkel of Germany or Jacinda Aldern of New Zealand, for example.
And if they stand out because they are women, what about Justin Trudeau of Canada or Sergio Materella of Italy, who actually cried copious tears during the peak of the crisis in his country because so many people were dying and he did not know how to console his people and his government had no idea how to move forward. I don't think that was a sign of weakness. It takes tremendous courage and a real man to admit to his failings. I think that is real machismo.
Now, even within the United States, Democratic governors and in India non-right-wing parties have executed themselves far better in handling the COVID crisis with more compassion and better administration. Those using a whip– treating it as a law and order rather than a health issue – have either been the union government or states like Uttar Pradesh or even Madhya Pradesh, the latter proving absolutely clueless.
All the rightwing governments, including in Karnataka, have had little compassion in dealing with the plight of migrant workers too – these poor workers have either been abandoned or treated as bonded labour, either prevented from returning home or not allowed free will as famously propounded by Yogi Adityanath, who said they would have to seek his permission to return to work in other states.
The fact that right-wingers never have the people’s welfare at heart has thus become very obvious from the manner in which the Union government continues to deal with the returning workers or those already back home.
Contrast that with the two major refugee crises in India -the first during Partition and the second during the Bangladesh war. India was flooded with physically and emotionally wounded refugees in such proportion that I shiver to think what would have happened to them all if someone like Narendra Modi or the BJP had been in power at the Centre then.
Instead, with Jawaharlal Nehru at the helm, in the early years of Independence, every arriving refugee was treated with care and compassion, settled in new homes, given land and rehabilitated - their third generation today is fairly prosperous and the horror of that mass migration a dim memory of the past. They were absorbed and assimilated because, of course, they were our own. When 25 years later, Bangladeshis poured into India escaping Pakistani brutality across the border, I was old enough to remember my parents grumbling about the heavy draw on Indian resources and additional taxes and cesses that my father, as a government servant, had no choice but to pay at source.
Later, I saw an interview of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to a western television channel wherein she was firm that India could not spend endless resources in rehabilitating these refugees and they must return to their home country in good time. That was also accomplished with compassion and finesse through treaties and negotiations with the neighbouring country – although they did not belong to India, they were not simply abandoned or kicked out the way our own migrant workers have been by various states over the past two months. Mrs Gandhi was a woman but no wonder she was called the only man in her cabinet – no male leader in the country, past or present, has been able to surpass her grace, courage, and, yes fierce devotion to India's sovereignty. That to me is macho.
The third migrant crisis which has left behind a lot of festering sores is the one of Kashmiri Pandits, who still yearn to return home. But let’s not forget the governor at that time was BJP ideologue Jagmohan, who not only had no compassion for the displaced migrants but actually encouraged them to leave, taking no measures against the militants who had forced them out of their homes.
Far from returning them to their homes, the current so-called strong right-wing government has created conditions that would make it impossible for them to return because their moves in Jammu and Kashmir would have lost them the complete faith and trust that should exist between communities for a peaceful coexistence.
So spare me the talk of strong leadership that is defined only by boorish machismo that is otherwise hollow and has only insults and crass abuse (like Trump, for example) for opponents mistaken for wit and humour; for example when Modi describes Congress leader Renuka Choudhury as Shoorpanakha. That machismo often masks a complete inability to govern, as evidenced among the leaders picked out by western writers. We must thank the Coronavirus for that.