Holding leaders to account

“This virus has snatched so many of our near ones,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, choking with emotion. There was a long pause, before the Prime Minister continued. “I pay my respects to all these people and offer condolences to their near and dear ones,” he said during a video conference with doctors on May 21, 2021.   | Photo Credit: PTI

From the first COVID-19 wave to the second, certain things have remained predictably consistent in India. First, the governments at the Centre and in different States have displayed their incapacities. Second, the party in power has constantly asked everyone to ‘refrain from playing politics’ while we are in the midst of a pandemic. While this sounds good in the first instance, repeated requests to ‘refrain from playing politics’ nudges us to examine the reasons behind such posturing.

Meaning of politics

And that takes us to the question, what is politics all about? Unlike the popular myth, politics is not only about what happens in Assemblies and Parliament. It should also not to be perceived as a dirty word signifying the lust for power or the route to meeting personal ambitions. An important element of politics is government formation, but more significant in a democratic set up is to keep creating avenues for civic engagement. It is through such avenues that informed citizens are able to fulfil their duty as well as right to question the very government they elected. Successful government formation or peaceful transition of power from one political outfit to another is not the end of politics. Vigilant citizens should be able speak directly on a platform or through an association or the existing Opposition about their concerns. During an unprecedented crisis such as the one we are facing now, sharing fears, trauma and anxieties through a medium also occupies a space in the approved hamper of politics and political activities. Any government which begins denigrating or demonising such critical voices against it is actually doing a great disservice to the very idea of politics. It forgets that it is the electors who occupy the central rostrum in a democracy and not the elected.

History has taught us that whenever regimes have felt that they are no longer in control of the mess they created, their first approach is to shift the goalposts. Thus, ‘please don’t play politics’ is the only weapon in their hands. In the last eight weeks, an overwhelming number of people have needed hospital beds, oxygen support or basic life-saving drugs, but only thousands have been lucky to have them. Thousands of families have lost their loved ones due to the unavailability of a live-saving instrument or drug. They have suffered the agony of being unable to attend burials or cremations of their near and dear ones. Hundreds of bodies have been found floating in different river streams in north India.

Dismissing concerns

Members of the Opposition, civil society groups and hundreds of doctors and healthcare professionals flagged concerns about the huge lacunae in health infrastructure much before the second wave began. Their concerns were ridiculed and dismissed. A government which was not able to deal with its own inferiority complex was quick to parade ministers and spokespersons to label all those voices as ‘political’. The regime must remember that pain and grief are two enduring emotions. The mismanagement of the pandemic has resulted in lakhs of grieving families in India. Though important, routine press conferences informing people that the recovery rate is high or that the positivity rate is going down are no soothing balm to the families who have lost their loved ones not just to the virus but to the lack of facilities which could have saved them. When grieving families are interviewed, they don’t blame the virus for their irreparable loss but the apathy and callousness of the government.

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The French sociologist Alain Touraine once said that the political class is becoming increasingly alien to the people. This is true of the government of the day. Our constitutional arrangement is such that the government is accountable to the people. The government’s disdain for people raising critical issues about the mismanagement of the crisis makes it clear that the leader of the regime does not think of “We the people...” but instead thinks, “I am the people”.

Manoj Kumar Jha is Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 10:58:58 AM |

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