India’s premature declaration of victory on coronavirus has proven to be counterproductive, second wave has caught us unawares hitting us harder. Last one year of corona experience and learning has had no impact on our pandemic preparedness; neither our much celebrated ‘world’s largest vaccination programme’ has been effective.
The Prime Minister had nothing new to say in his recent address to the nation. People are leaderless. What is our leadership really doing in these times of collapse? Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were preoccupied with West Bengal elections, flaunting the attendance of crowds as their achievement.
People were carefree. They went to attend the Maha Kumbh Mela (ruling Bhartiya Janata Party now pompously refers to all Kumbhs and Ardh-Kumbhs also as Maha Kumbh) in large numbers.
BJP has been promoting the myth that faith in religion is supreme. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has claimed that reciting Ram Charit Manas will help overcome coronavirus. Images of lakhs bathing in Ganga, spread by BJP’s Information Technology cell, are cherished by its strong political supporters and are perceived as victory of religion over coronavirus, victory of Hindutva. Coronavirus becomes inconsequential for believers.
There is no limit to absurdity when politically solidified intrinsic religious urges and obsessive compulsive behaviors start ruling out all rational arguments. The ancient Indian wisdom gets thrown out of window for unquestionable supremacy of religion when polity is controlled by the thought that declares religion to be fundamental.
The disrespect of experts and medical sciences becomes a hall mark of the society when super spreading religious events like Kumbh Mela occur. Bollywood director Ram Gopal Varma remarked on these changing mindsets: “It took six weeks to vaccinate 17 lakhs in Mumbai, 35 lakhs took a dip in Ganga in just one day. Don’t we care more about next birth than this one?”
Is there no purpose to fight coronavirus left in us?
We all know that coronavirus has exposed the existing weaknesses of our systems. Bengal election campaign and Maha Kumbh Mela have become two striking symbols of what is wrong with us as a system and society.
Coronavirus has conveyed in Bengal that we have become once in five years election-only democracy and in Haridwar, it has highlighted us as being a religion driven polity. Elections and religion are two things that make us feel so euphoric that we can ignore thousands choking to their last breath. Modi is champion of elections and his party is champion of religion. But both can’t do anything about thousands dying due to the pandemic.
Our Prime Minister was seen desperately trying to win Bengal than govern the country. He promised free Covid vaccines for West Bengal as if he is an aspirant Chief Minister of the state rather than the PM of entire country. He resorted to a common tactic used by traders. First you raise the prices and then deceive people by offering concessions.
Modi and his party are doing what they are good at: Attack the opponents, divide the society communally, run the technology aided propaganda machinery spreading lies, advertise PM pouring crores of rupees, keep on vacuously promising the development to poor and middle class, buy the leaders of the opposition either before or after elections to destroy opposition state governments and so on.
We now know all these as standard operating procedures. The elections are made into cheap entertainment game people like to watch, rather than making people think about present and future of the country. Bengal saw the worst communal violence in 1947 partition, but its politics never derailed on communal lines after that. In fact, in 1971 West Bengal gave refuge to close to a crore people who fled East Pakistan facing political persecution.
Images of lakhs bathing in Ganga, spread by BJP’s IT cell, are perceived as victory of religion over coronavirus, victory of Hindutva
BJP which talks of uniting the country has successfully divided the Bengali society on religious and caste lines as never before. The founders of our democracy would have never imagined that our elections will become a tool to choke the democracy and alienate the last person on the social ladder. But we live in times when elections have become as sacred as Maha Kumbh. Who will dare to touch them? It wasa a Maha Kumbh of Bengal elections, as coronovirus became inconsequential.
And then there was the Election Commission, which facilitated BJP campaign by dividing state election in eight phases spread over a month so that all games can be played. ‘Modi & Shah Inc.’ have been dictating the election regulator, which is more than obvious now.
The narrative of modern India has been trying to shape ‘forward looking’ society by breaking regressive traps. This journey has been a struggle for creating more progressive India against all traditional odds. But a religious party comes to power in garb of development and things begin sliding backwards. Now we are made to believe that modernity and religion can combine together to create a political force for economic development. It does not matter if the CM of Uttar Pradesh wears saffron gown, he can still be a modern ambassador of development.
Not just that, he broke last year’s strict lockdown with sale of liquor and has no problem in financing his Gaushalas with cess collected from sale of liquor. But when such leadership happens to rule with ideas that are rooted in outdated religious beliefs, the state appears to be run like monastery. Economy, too, gets a similar political shaping.
Digital campaigns give followers ‘feeling they want’ on cell phones in their palms. There is no critical questioning and common sense app on those cell phones! Such high voltage campaigns connect to the deeper reactionary emotions of people and bring them out in open to attack basic logic.
Something is terribly wrong when very images of thousands in water and lakhs without masks stop scaring us as a society. All this crafted propaganda can’t get us hospitals, beds, medicines and ventilators. Superficial power aspirants have been humbled by collapse of the systems and super spreaders have stormed to center stage of our political atmosphere now. India waits for fresh wave of leadership.
Till then, our democracy faces the dip and the divide. The dip in Haridwar and the divide in Bengal make the battle against coronavirus appear purposeless. Welcome to second wave of Coronavirus!
*Associated with Socialist Party (India); Prof Pandey is also Magsaysay award winning social activist