Modi 1

For the past six years, we have been told that India has got a strong government with a strong leader. The measurements of the Prime Minister’s chest became the centre of a political strategy that emphasised, what some saw as, his political strength and to resolve issues with an iron-fist approach.

The onslaught of the pandemic and its consistent mismanagement by the government have created multiple emergencies in quick succession. The rising number of deaths due to Covid19, followed by the unavailability of hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen cylinders and essential drugs, led to national anxiety created by the lackadaisical attitude of the government. The second wave of the pandemic hit so bad that many on the side of the ruling party had to concede that the water had gone way over the head.

While the government had congratulated itself for the management of the first wave, experts had warned that the second wave could be more challenging given the discovery of multiple mutants of the coronavirus. And they were true, because the second wave shook everyone, more so the foundations of namesake health infrastructure in India. Unfortunately, it could not shake the government’s apathy. Healthcare professionals, social and public policy experts, activists, opposition parties, and many concerned citizens consistently challenged the government’s claims and alerted them to possible threats that lay ahead. They warned about the rise of anti-scientific discourse which had begun to circulate in the real world through the virtual medium. Their concern was outrightly rejected by the government as false propaganda and liberal arrogance of working against the government. Their projections were shot down by the government and its allies as unfounded imagination coloured with prejudice. However, public anxiety multiplied when the march of a majoritarian government allowed the gathering of lakhs of pilgrims for the Mahakumbh holy dip without any physical distancing protocols in place. People were terrified by the spectacle of ignorance which in other times would be considered divine and colourful. The government was quick to blame the people but conveniently ignored that it had allowed such gathering in the first place to harness populist attention. It can be noted that the government has repetitively resorted to a hyphenated discourse of state-administration-citizen to shift the goalpost and distribute blame across the spectrum.

In the ongoing massacre of thousands of ordinary Indians due to the apathy of the current government, citizens suffer from anxiety that stems from the uncertainties that the incompetent behaviour of the government has offered. We have now become used to repeatedly checking the news sites and social media feeds flooded with stories of multiple nightmares with trepidation and hopelessness. Initially, the feeling was that of pain and suffering but slowly it is transforming into anger. It was at one point in time nothing more than an echo chamber of despair. At the same time, social media provided invaluable information about the availability of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, or provided contacts of individuals and civil society organisations that could be contacted for help. Social media offered a new model of popular self-governance which could work for the masses but ultimately is controlled by big corporations.

The only ones who were privileged in these horrendous times were the ones who were not infected by the virus. The invisible force of the virus did level many dominant and distinctive social categorisations that thrive on various notions of inequality. The virus created a new order of marginalisation where the entire populace was excluded from medical facilities. Thus, exacerbating the condition of precarity. In this light, the unavailability and inaccessibility to vaccines is a primary concern. Very little thought is put into how support and vaccines reach the non-urban parts of the majority of the country.

In the 1990s there was an active push for a public-private partnership in the healthcare sector. Increasingly, access to quality health care facilities became the sole privilege of the wealthy. There emerged a widening gap between those who were able to buy healthcare versus the majority who were unable to procure it. The procurement of war machines was prioritised over lifesaving medical equipment. Masculine warmongering made it oblivious to the fact that security has multiple dimensions and wars are only one part of it. How pandemics can induce political instability has only begun to become clear now. More people have died in India over the past year than in multiple wars fought with its neighbours. Ironically, commentators have argued that more people have died due to the lack of facilities than the lethal potency of the virus itself.

The pandemic realised some of our darkest fears and normalised death and brutality of existence in the everyday. Visuals of patients gasping for breath, patients running pillar to post to secure a hospital bed and later oxygen cylinders, dead bodies pushed into graves by using machines, and more recently the episode of hundreds of floating bodies in the Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradesh highlight that the facade of citizen rights has run its course. Prisoners and detainees were the other of the free society who had negligible access to healthcare. Both the right to a dignified life and death needs to be discussed afresh. Putting emphasises on a logic of priorities, the pandemic saw the discourse of human rights conveniently thrown in the dustbin by the government.

Recently, the Prime Minister once again addressed the nation in his banal monologue and shed tears at the ongoing loss of lives. I will argue that the Prime Minister cried not because as a leader he cares about people’s lives, but because he could not face his failure. The facade of tears was to camouflage his cluelessness and hypocrisy. It is one of the resorts of a hurt ego, who realised that he could not control things in the way he wanted anymore.  Since his arrival at the national scene, he has thrived on public relations and image management. He projected himself as a one-stop solution to all the challenges that the country faced. His image building hit a new low when death certificates issued to Covid patients also bore his image. Too much effort to build a proactive and visible image backfired. He was found consistently absent from the active public sphere when the citizens needed him the most. He has shown an unwillingness to even engage with the suggestions offered. Resource galvanisation by a different section of civil society was referred to as ‘playing politics.’ Almost everyone would agree that it is not a time to ‘play politics,’ but what is urgently required is to bring back the political to the centre of the discussions. In our case, citizens have realised that the Government does not know better than a layman or conspiracy theorist.

Once the second wave of Coivd19 plateaus, the question remains, how do we prepare and deal with the uncertainty of the third wave and the possibility of future mutants of the virus. What policy measures must be deployed to manage the pandemic and reduce social and political anxiety. The enormity of this challenge still has not fallen on the deaf ears of the egoist leaders of the government who are more interested in image management than providing an informed, transparent, and coordinated response in consultation with the multiple stakeholders in the society.

The leader of the government must consider three questions at least. He must reflect on what his government is doing, how they are doing it and how can they learn from what has happened. He must reflect that egoist behaviour and thought processes in the government are becoming increasingly ingrained and it will soon become difficult to recalibrate. He must not see useful suggestions and feedback as a trigger of instability for his utterly fragile political outlook. He must come forward with a clear response accepting the follies of his government, the impact they have had on the country and its citizens and show a willingness to brainstorm and coordinate with others before everybody is wiped out. It cannot redeem him of his blunders but will facilitate in making our lives more manageable, whatever it means given the current circumstances.

It is quite clear that the current government is incapable of governance in the very basic sense, forget about ‘good governance,’ etc. The cumulative political and social anxiety that traverses across various sections of society bears testimony to that. We are all hurt and angered. This personalised anger must be sustained and politicised for the public good so that the manufactured irrelevance of the basic questions of just human existence in this hypercapitalist world is confronted and exposed, and inequality challenged.

(Javed Iqbal Wani is Assistant Professor at Ambedkar University Delhi. He is interested in History(ies), Culture(s) & Politics of South Asia, particularly India. His broad research interests are around issues pertaining to the nature of State, operations of Ideology, terrains of violence and configurations of resistance.)


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