COVID-19 Crisis Or Not, BJP’s ‘Politics-First’ Agenda Carries On

One expects political parties to be led by political motives. But it cannot be politics as usual during a pandemic.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image of BJP’s lotus symbol and an illustration of the coronavirus used for representational purposes.
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As India stares at nearly 3 lakh new COVID-19 cases and over 2000 deaths, as the crematoriums spill over and hospitals struggle with a crippling shortage of beds and oxygen, the BJP-ruled government at the Centre continues to do what it does best — push its politics-first agenda.

In a stunning irony, in the PM’s televised address on 20 April night — where he basically congratulated his government for having done an excellent job of managing the pandemic — he also urged the people to practise caution and follow COVID-safe rules. Yet, he and his party people seem to have had no regard for the same rules.

A Mask-Less Election Mela in Bengal

Smelling a chance of victory in West Bengal, PM Modi and his Home Minister, Amit Shah, held many mega rallies in the state, where mask-less people stood cheek-by-jowl to listen to their mask-less leaders. On one occasion, the PM even bragged about the size of the crowd — COVID be damned.

Quizzed about the danger of campaigning in this fashion when a pandemic was raging, the Home Minister blithely declared that rallies did not lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

For the record, on Monday, 19 April 2021, West Bengal saw a doubling of cases in eight days — with a highest single-day spike of 9,819 new infections.

Meanwhile, the Bengal government’s entreaties to the Election Commission to club the remaining three phases of the elections in view of the ballooning COVID pandemic, has been turned down. The EC is an honourable institution, no doubt, but everyone knows that it is the BJP which stands to gain the most from a super lengthy eight-phase election in Bengal.

India’s New Vaccine Strategy: Politics At Play?

Politics has, in fact, been centre-stage in the ruling party's response to the deadly second wave of the pandemic. Take the so-called ‘liberalisation’ of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy.

While the decision to open up vaccination for everyone over the age of 18 is welcome, the announcement that vaccine manufacturers would give 50 percent of their supply to state governments and the open market at a price (Covishield will be available to the states for Rs 400 per dose), is one that puts politics above the interests of a nation in the midst of an existential health crisis.

Mass vaccination is critical to battling this deadly pandemic, and governments in countries around the world have been inoculating their citizens free of cost.

In India, the Centre has come under considerable flak for not having ordered and procured enough vaccine doses to inoculate its adult population quickly. As a result, we now have a severe shortage of vaccines.

What We Are Staring At: A Political Blame-Game Over COVID Vaccination

Asking the states to buy the vaccines to immunise the 18-45 age group at this juncture is not only an abdication of what is primarily the Centre’s responsibility. It is also a nakedly political attempt to shift the blame onto the states if the vaccination drive goes slow. (No doubt, non-BJP ruled states would face the most virulent attacks by minions of the central government.) Besides, many states simply do not have the wherewithal to incur the huge cost of buying doses at prices determined by market forces.

In other words, we are looking at an orgy of political blame-game to come — the Centre blaming the states for vaccination centres going dry, the states blaming the Centre for shrugging off its responsibility, states blaming each other for outbidding them of the scarce supply of vaccines, and so on.

In the ensuing chaos and political wrangling, it is the Indian citizens who will suffer and die of COVID-19.

But this is hardly surprising, given that politics has been centerstage in the ruling party’s response to the deadly second wave of the pandemic. By late February 2021, it was clear that COVID-19 cases were on the rise once again. Even if the assembly elections were to go ahead in the five states where they were due, the exercise of canvassing for votes should have been subjected to strict COVID-appropriate protocols.

We saw none of that.

Classic BJP-Speak: ‘Blame Your Political Opponent For Your Follies’

Indeed, politics has never been far from most acts of commission and omission by the Centre insofar as the pandemic is concerned.

When former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote a dignified and completely apolitical letter to the current incumbent, offering some suggestions to cope with the pandemic, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan replied to it with a churlish mix of disdain, snark and attacking comments about the Congress.

When Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote to the Centre, requesting  an increased supply of medical oxygen to hospitals in view of the sharply rising influx of COVID-19 cases, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said: “State governments should keep demand (for medical oxygen) under control. Demand-side management is as important as supply-side management.”

When hospitals around the country are bursting at the seams with COVID patients who need oxygen support, how exactly are state governments supposed to “manage” the demand side of oxygen?

Goyal’s comment is actually classic BJP speak — a reflexive, almost Pavlovian attempt to somehow blame the political opponent for whatever the issue is at hand.  It’s always politics first — sense and sensitivity last.

History Won’t Forget Govt’s Hunger For Power Amid Public Health Disaster

As if that weren’t enough, sundry BJP leaders have been fishing in the troubled waters of the shortage of drugs prescribed in severe cases of COVID-19. In Maharashtra, BJP leaders Devendra Fadnavis and Pravin Darekar are allegedly involved in procuring Remdesivir, leading to charges that they might also be involved in hoarding and black-marketeering of the key drug, which states, including Maharashtra, are struggling to find.

One expects political parties to be led by political motives. But it cannot be politics as usual when the country is reeling from a monumental health emergency.

History will surely judge this government for its obsession with power and with scoring political brownie points at a time when the nation helplessly counts its dead.

(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author. He tweets @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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