Those of us who thought the end of 2020 marked the end of grim times, have been proved wrong by the first half of 2021. The COVID-19 situation, which had significantly improved as recently as February 2021, has again brought fresh challenges to the fore. Healthcare infrastructure is under heavy strain. But there are some things distinctly different from the previous year. Most importantly, we have vaccines. India remains among the largest vaccine manufacturers of the world and is also running the largest vaccination drive in the world. Our strategy of vaccinating frontline workers early on has also been beneficial.
Adversities are supposed to unite us – to rise to the occasion and defeat the common enemy which, in this case, is a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. Unity is very different from accountability. By all means, ask the right questions and seek the right answers. Offer constructive feedback as well. But, in India, it’s the opposite. The same cast has reorganised with a new script, where the focus has shifted from the pandemic to the Prime Minister. In this tragedy, they smell an opportunity to revive falling political fortunes.
It is unfortunate that while frontline workers are fighting the toughest battle of their lives and countless patients lie in hospitals, there’s a group of people who have a “find and feast approach” – find the biggest tragedy and feast on it. Never before has every death been met with such back-handed joy just because it can potentially embarrass the government. Never before have we reduced funerals, otherwise a very solemn and private affair, to a spectacle aimed at taunting the present government. To justify such behaviour, many explanations have been given – “Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral has been photographed” or “Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji’s funeral was shown on live TV.” Gandhiji and Vajpayeeji were public figures whose lives were about the people. Not every person wishes to live and die like this.
Every life lost due to COVID-19 is a tragedy. Yet, we did not see back-to-back coverage of mass graveyards in the West when their numbers were looking bleak. The manner in which India’s misery is being “marketed” globally is painful.
Today, every tragedy is highlighted as a “political turning point”. The heart-wrenching scene of migrants walking home in peak summer was similarly shown as a “turning point”. The gruesome killing of our forces in Pulwama was also seen as one.
Even reforms and fair laws are opposed. The bringing in of GST and demonetisation were seen as “turning points”. CAA and NRC, too. Discussions around them were filled with premature celebration.
This tendency will have repercussions for our nation. Power comes and goes. Someone may have ruled this nation for many decades earlier but the fact that such power does not exist with them now cannot become a basis for politicising sensitive issues.
Unfortunately for such elements, their efforts pale before the wisdom of our citizens. They campaigned hard on demonetisation during the UP 2017 elections. We saw how that panned out. They went to town citing a “failed GST” in Gujarat but that, too, did not pan out as planned. Based on CAA and NRC, they felt they would reap rich harvests in the Northeast but were proven wrong. Last year, as most migrants made their way to Bihar, they felt they have hit gold. But the people of Bihar preferred stable and experienced hands over shrill political rhetoric. Every “turning point” became a “tripping point”.
The people of India have seen the track record of PM Modi. Kutch was turned around after one of India’s worst earthquakes under his leadership. Ahmedabad and Surat were saved from life-threatening floods. I can list many examples. Recently, the migrant crisis was handled by ushering the largest poverty support measure in the form of the PM Garib Kalyan package. The number of economic reforms last year were welcomed even by Modi critics. Even now, the gains in vaccination or efforts to add medical as well as oxygen capacities continue. In such times, it would be insensitive to seek political gains when the future of the planet is at stake.
Our political rejects bring with them a burdensome legacy, a hunger for power and a demanding ecosystem which has long enjoyed the benefits of the gravy train. Today’s India does not accept that. They are watching with dismay every effort this motley group has made to create further panic. Even a project of global good like the vaccines became about Narendra Modi. Through December, January and February the vaccine was mocked, questioned and ridiculed. For a party which has run the nation for several years and even initiated vaccination drives in the past, their top leadership has not once boosted public confidence by urging others to take it.
A strong and healthy India is vital for global good. The need of the hour is to fight this crisis as one, with a spirit of cooperation. Politics can wait. There will be many opportunities to do that. The “turning points” can wait but one wrong turn will take us to a point of no return and by the time we realise it would be too late.
This article first appeared in the print edition of Indian Express on 01 May…