Every political party has a natural tendency to spin ground reality to present a favourable interpretation of events. But there are times in a nation’s life when the ruling establishment does great disservice to the citizens by wasting time and energy on the obfuscation of truth, instead of rising to the occasion to face the challenge.
Covid-19 has presented one such crisis when the Narendra Modi government should have harnessed all its resources and ideas to provide maximum possible relief to the grieving population. The usual diversionary ploys may be effective in normal circumstances but society is not psychologically prepared to digest propaganda during unbearable distress. It needs healing and support. Low-grade mendacity at a time when thousands are dying every day and lakhs getting infected by the deadly virus not only vitiates public discourse but deepens the sense of helplessness.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has successfully deployed his skills of focusing on the upside and hiding the downside throughout his political career but he needed to be far more candid and caring in this colossal tragedy. He needed to step out administratively and emotionally to align with the dominant sentiment among the embattled masses. His silence and the BJP’s attempts to deny the enormity of the crisis was doomed to prove counter-productive.
Modi should have led from the front, reached out to opposition parties and created the impression of a national fightback, instead of riding roughshod on disconcerting voices. Even as pure political tact, a consensual approach would have lessened the moral burden on the government and blunted the edge of criticism that is now pouring out of the political class, civil society and international media.
Modi should have shown a greater sense of accommodation to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose statesman-like suggestions would have indisputably helped the government strategise better. But the Prime Minister committed a blunder by refusing to engage with him and instigating Health Minister Harsh Vardhan to write a nasty letter to the globally-acclaimed former Prime Minister, whose sagacity and knowledge need no reiteration.
The intervention of BJP chief JP Nadda was completely uncalled for; he wrote a spiteful letter to Sonia Gandhi, who had written several letters to the Prime Minister in a spirit of constructive engagement between the government and the opposition. Nadda trivialised the discourse. The outcome is a far bigger attack by the joint opposition, which bluntly told the Prime Minister that he had ignored sane advice to trigger “an apocalyptic human tragedy”.
This intervention by the joint opposition – with leaders like Sonia Gandhi, HD Deve Gowda, Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray, Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Hemant Soren, Farooq Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav, Tejaswi Yadav, D Raja and Sitaram Yechury coming together – smashed whatever little impact the artful “Positivity Unlimited” project of the RSS-BJP project could have generated.
The opposition’s letter had substantive suggestions; the most important being the procurement of vaccines centrally from all available sources – global and domestic, and ensure free and universal vaccination across the country. It is bizarre to leave it to the states to float global tenders for vaccines; that not only shows lack of application of mind but abdication of responsibility on the Centre’s part.
The Centre initially controlled the levers of power and imposed its will in petty matters like containment zones and running of transport during lockdown. But when it came to the larger responsibility of procuring and distributing vaccines, it withdrew into its shell. Leaving the states to the mercy of international market forces is inexplicable. Nowhere in the world have provincial governments been left to organise vaccines on their own. This is a prescription for chaos. This is a repeat of the crime leading to oxygen shortage. The production and supply of oxygen was exclusively the Centre’s responsibility.
The vaccination drive has slowed down and thousands of vaccination centres have closed temporarily. The mishap had to happen because real tragedy calls for real responses. Without an effective action plan and sound execution – which means delivering substantive help to the struggling people – all efforts to change the narrative are doomed to fail.
The remedy had to have three components – planning, action and communication. Without the two pillars of planning and action, the edifice collapsed. It was inevitable. A tactless handling of the situation will unleash greater miseries and more confrontation with the opposition. It will establish that Modi wasn’t interested in forging solidarities and demonstrating unity of purpose. This is bad politics, in addition to bad optics.