More Covid questions than answers in the world’s largest ‘electoral autocracy’
Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary measures. Failure to anticipate is bad, but it’s worse if one ignores warnings from different quarters. And it’s even worse if you mismanage the situation; blaming others and seeking to punish them is lower still.
The worst, definitely, is if you allow your political agenda and religious preferences to cloud key, urgently required, decisions. You reach your nadir when you justify it all, vocally or by your silence, before the people and even the law courts, bad-mouthing your critics through media management. And then, you bristle and protest when the world that admired you with high expectations turns critical. You accept their help but reject their concerns.
All this, and much more, is happening as India battles a pandemic that has engulfed lakhs and takes thousands of lives daily. Old records of the Spanish flu and bubonic plague that hit the Indians a century ago, patchy though they are, are unlikely to tell of people in hospital dying for want of oxygen. Or, of vaccine shortage, when the country is the world’s largest vaccine producer, donating and exporting them.
Admittedly, much of the criticism is from hindsight. Bitter truth be told, not just the government and the people, even the vaccine producers were caught unprepared, if not napping, for the second wave that is worse than the first. Only, the latter has admitted to it – the government will not. Symbols of this aggressive approach are Uttar Pradesh chief minister doggedly refusing to acknowledge any shortcoming even as hundreds have died across his state and Haryana’s chief minister who ridicules any casualty count, since “the dead will not return”. The situation does not prevent a Bangalore lawmaker to give communal colour to those working at a hospital, and having lit the fire, glibly denying what is on record.
And now, the government tells you that the third wave is inevitable. Loathe to loosen control of critical supplies, it is forced to pass the buck to the states, even to the mohalla committees, the smallest cluster of the citizenry. Be self-reliant, they are told.
All this has not helped the economy that has been hit by production and job losses. Millions are again moving away from their farms and factories. A new study says 230 million have been pushed below minimum wage level. Thanks to last year’s lockdown, only 61 per cent of working age men are employed, while 47 per cent of women have suffered permanent job loss. The government is resisting pressures, even from within its team, to declare a national-level lockdown. The states are forced to do it. Some decentralization, this, of misery.
All this did not prevent the Kumbha Mela where half-a-million bathed in the Ganga, flouting rules that stipulate health precautions. Justification came from mainstream media on how past British rulers had facilitated rituals despite adversities. Whether or not the bathers ensured their moksha, many among them did court the Coronavirus. The mela is now a super-spreader event. Mela or not, Corona has infected even the base camp of Mount Everest.
It is difficult to comprehend how and why people go through marriages but that can be attributed to individual decisions taken under compulsions, whatever they may be. They take the blame and pay for it, sadly, with their lives.
But there is none to take the blame for elections to four states Assemblies and a Union Territory. Neither any part of the state, nor the political class, wants to share the responsibility.
The question that should goad minds, irrespective of who won or lost: Was it all worthwhile? It is important to ask because of the pandemic that has brought, in all its aspects, to a standstill, is not about to go.
Why is it that none of the political parties protested the protracted poll schedule? Why did none of them declare that they would stay out of the polls? “We can’t let others win” argument was made. A need to hold them to meet requirements as per the Constitution was also cited.
Why was it that the Union Cabinet, in a statement acknowledged the pandemic being “once-in-a century” calamity, only after the electioneering was over? Or, was it the exit polls?
Why did the judiciary fail to take suo motu note of the worsening situation? Why nobody from the public petition the country’s highest court? Did the court refrain only out of the fear of transgressing the arrangement set under the Constitution for different levers of the state?
In a sporting event, cricket for instance, the umpires decide whether a match should continue given the light and rain conditions. Why was it that the Election Commission of India, a supposedly neutral constitutional body, fail to determine whether electioneering and voting should continue, even half-way? Did it not notice that leaders wearing no masks were addressing large rallies where the audiences were mask-less, too? Why did Commission attract the charge, no less than from high courts, that it was “responsible for murder”? Refusing to buck, it wanted the media gagged for reporting the court’s observations, till the Supreme Court silenced its self-righteous protests. Belated, after the change at its top, the apex court’s bold and balancing stance in the last two weeks raises hopes.
Is there a count of Covid-casualties among workers of political parties in the campaign, officials working as part of the vast election machinery – among them the unnamed ground level officials and school teachers? All these people should have been with their families, feeding them and protecting them from Covid.
Covid is spreading, like wildfire, as it were. So, why were the elections gone through? To fit political agenda of all since they are instruments of the power game? So that some people could make money? And many receive pre-poll freebies? And let the TV channels build up TRPs?
The state, collectively, failed to take the lead to prevent this “once-in-a-century” calamity.
There is nothing so far to indicate that whatever else may stop – exams in schools and colleges, for one – more elections will take place, even if the Corona continues to play havoc.
This reminds of the Chausar play in Mahabharata. The Kauravas played to a plan. The Pandavas succumbed because it was the norm and they had their prestige to preserve. The elders of the two clans, unable or unwilling to prevent it, kept silent. Even Krishna, the know-it-all, let it happen because, as he said, it was inevitable, pre-destined and best gone through. We know of Karma and Dharma. There is no Krishna. But the other caps can be fitted as per one’s thinking.
Were any lessons learnt? In the present-day context, are there lessons to be learnt, and will they be learnt? Or, are elections meant to be the end-all and be-all for a democracy?
Should we, then, bristle when India, the world’s largest democracy, is categorized as an “electoral autocracy”?