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The price of premature triumphalism

It is impossible to think of COVID-19 without thinking of the Prime Minister too. For one, there is his image on the ‘final certificate’ issued by the Health Ministry after the second vaccination. This shows him in his bearded avatar, lips slightly parted, hair neatly groomed and with an expression behind his rimless glasses that suggests a favourite uncle about to tell you he is cutting you out of his will.

Do we hang it on our walls like a major award? Or hide it away in the bottom drawer like an embarrassing school report card?

Unlike the choice of vaccines, we don’t get a choice of politicians on our ominous-sounding ‘final certificate’. And anyway, I can’t think of a politician’s face I’d like to have on it. Not Yediyurappa, not Kejriwal, not Rahul Gandhi, not Mamata Banerjee, not Stalin, not anybody.

No politician is above blame for the mess we are in. If it were absolutely necessary to have a picture at all, why not R2D2, that loveable robot from Star Wars? Or the image of our pet cat or dog which we could upload ourselves? Or Kalidasa, our greatest poet, who wrote in his Shakuntala, his classic play, “Misfortune finds the weak spot”, and “A good man never lets grief get the upper hand,” and so much more, all in Sanskrit.

As far back as October-November, experts had predicted the second wave this time of the year. Yet, rather than prepare for it we chose to pretend the COVID-19 had left our shores and congratulated ourselves. Ministers tripped over themselves to tell us how they had conquered the virus. The premature triumphalism was frightening. Every one of us who broke the COVID-19, who refused to wear a mask or observe social distancing must take a portion of the blame. We knew, but we didn’t care.

The visuals on television, of desperate families, of undignified cremations, of shortages of beds, shortages of medicines, shortages of vaccines, shortages of qualified personnel, shortages of oxygen, of sharks making the most of other people’s misery sear through our souls. They diminish our humanity. Anxiety and depression have become constant companions. We are helpless, frustrated.

No one remains unaffected. Those who haven’t lost a dear one themselves know someone who has died needlessly because our politicians were so distracted. And so unwilling to listen to the experts who had warned us.

Where is the Prime Minister in all this? The country loved him for his oratory, for his 56-inch chest, for his decisiveness. But his oratory has been reduced to patting himself on the back for drawing crowds, his chest is heaving with the burden of things not done. And decision delayed is decision denied.

He is not solely responsible for the crisis. But the buck stops with him. He is, after all, the first among equals. He once took credit for the drop in oil prices and later, a good monsoon. To mix a metaphor, what was sauce in the good times…

(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu)

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 9:19:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/the-price-of-premature-triumphalism/article34402729.ece

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