West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wearing a mask, distributes relief material to the needy people during the nationwide lockdown imposed in wake of coronavirus pandemic, in Kolkata | Photo: Swapan Mahapatra | PTI
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Apart from spreading the coronavirus disease Covid-19, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, or SARS-2, has already changed the course of Indian politics. 

The Narendra Modi government has had to indefinitely postpone the door-to-door enumeration and profiling of 1.37 billion Indians, who are locked in at home, fearing a pandemic, and already bearing the brunt of its economic consequences. 

It is anybody’s guess how soon life could go back to being normal — it could be two months or two years.

For now, Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works for the Modi government’s Hindutva agenda. 

In its first year after re-election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wanted to carry out all its top Hindutva projects, and most of it has been accomplished. The constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir, the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the ‘chronological’ CAA-NPR-NRC laws that threaten to strip Indian Muslims of their citizenship — all of these now feel like a distant memory. They belong to the BC period, Before Coronavirus. 

The Modi government likely planned more such Hindutva policies — a population control law, and a uniform civil code. Those are not viable at the moment. 

After 23 May 2019, the Modi government had the political capital to put governance and economy on the back burner, even as it paid a price for it in state elections. Now, as Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, is criticised for shifting a statue of Lord Ram amid a lockdown, he can no longer play the Hindu card to silence his critics.

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Like waking up screaming in the middle of a nightmare, Covid-19 has rudely brought governance and economy back on centre stage. A glass of water, please. 


Also read: Modi’s poorly planned lockdown won’t save us from coronavirus, but will kill economy


Crisis is opportunity

The word crisis comes from the Greek krisis, which originally meant, “turning point in a disease, that change which indicates recovery or death”. Covid-19 is just such a turning point.

Nobody knows better than Narendra Modi that crisis is opportunity. Even before the fire in Sabarmati Express train near Godhra, Modi’s first crisis was a massive earthquake in Bhuj in 2001. Efficient post-quake relief and reconstruction, in alliance with the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), helped a newly appointed Gujarat chief minister bolster his image in the BJP and the state at large. 

And then there was Godhra and the ensuing anti-Muslim riots, which helped Modi present himself as a Hindutva icon.

Covid-19 is similarly a political opportunity for Narendra Modi. And luck often favours him. If he can bring India out of this crisis relatively less affected than the West, he will be even stronger than he became after 23rd May. He will have a lot more political capital to pursue the Hindutva agenda and ignore the economic slump. 

So far his record on Covid-19 is mixed. He can say he did an early lockdown, not making the mistake of Britain’s Boris Johnson and US’ Donald Trump. But Modi has been failing on testing and providing protective gear to medical workers. He can say he was early with screening people at airports but even that had several loopholes and not all incoming travellers were screened, and he followed it up with an ill-planned lockdown that is now causing more harm than good.

But it’s early days. It won’t be until a few weeks that we can get a sense about whether India ducked the coronavirus or whether the inevitable happens. Meanwhile, the Modi propaganda machinery is already doing its best to keep his voters assured that he’s using his supernatural powers to defeat the virus:


Also read: India’s democracy deficit comes in the way of its battle against COVID-19


A new page for the opposition

If the Covid-19 crisis is a political opportunity for Narendra Modi, it is an even greater opportunity for the opposition. To begin with, the crisis has turned the page on Hindutva, at least for now. The opposition no longer has the excuse that it is unable to appeal to a majority of voters just because they are being given a regular dose of intoxicating Hindutva.

The public will now test Narendra Modi on three counts: response to the pandemic, the health infrastructure at large, and the state of the Indian economy. On all three fronts, the opposition has a big window of opportunity, which will last at least a few weeks if not a few months.

For the most part, the Congress party’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has come across as mature, its opposition constructive. It is criticising the Modi government’s follies and yet not appearing to be Pavlovian in its criticism. It is coming across as trying to solve a grave problem rather than score political brownie points and bring down Narendra Modi.

This is unlike how we have seen the Congress party — and indeed, the wider opposition — respond since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. From demonetisation and lynching to GST and NRC, the opposition came across as unsure of its own position, attacking Modi but unable to find a voice that would appeal to the people. 

That cognitive dissonance could change if the opposition continues its mature response and remembers that its focus is to convince the masses that it can do a better job of governance than the current dispensation. 

When Rahul Gandhi suggests a strategy, a different way of dealing with the pandemic, he comes out looking much better than he did with ‘Chowkidar chor hai’. Indeed, Rahul Gandhi can legitimately claim brownie points for warning about the crisis when Modi was partying with Trump at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad. 

While the Congress old guard may think their party’s former president needs to go easy on low-level Modi-bashing at a time of national crisis, it is a sign of Rahul Gandhi’s maturity that he welcomes an economic package by the government like a constructive opposition leader. 

This is the right time for Rahul Gandhi to give up his angry young man phase and reconcile with the old guard. He could then benefit from the collective wisdom of the party. For instance, when P. Chidambaram outlines what the Modi government needed to do to fight Covid-19, it helps the Congress present itself as a party that knows about governance. 


Also read: By failing to scale up testing coronavirus, India may have lost crucial time


Chief ministers lead the way

In what may or may not be a coincidence, the chief ministers standing out in the crisis are all in non-NDA ruled states. This does not include Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is standing in a halfway house between opposition and NDA ally. 

While the loudest applause has been won by Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh has earned praise for making his police force implement the lockdown with sensitivity. Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot may not be doing a great job at PR but his alertness has so far prevented a bad situation in Bhilwara from exploding into community transmission. 

Uddhav Thackeray has used the crisis to cement a working relationship with his alliance partners in Maharashtra and has thus earned praise for displaying maturity. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is using the opportunity to cement her attempts to be seen as governance-oriented rather than a politician fighting the onslaught of Hindutva. And Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren is standing out in making the lockdown bearable for the poor and preparing the state for potential outbreak of community transmission. 

While the Modi government’s handling of coronavirus is being compared to its botched project of demonetisation, the opposition parties have an opportunity this time to show by contrast in the states ruled by them that they can do better than Modi. For instance, if Rahul Gandhi and the old guard could stop fighting in Delhi, the Congress could well highlight this contrast and take credit for it, thus shoring up its claim in national politics.

This will also need the national leadership of the Congress party to come out of Twitter  and reach out to the masses, especially since the ‘North Korean’ media won’t amplify their voice. And it might help Rahul Gandhi that international flights are suspended. 

The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.

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39 Comments Share Your Views

39 COMMENTS

  1. 1. The constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir:
    How is this related to Hindutva even close to Hindutva? Or is that Kasmir belongs only to Muslims?

    2. CAA-NPR-NRC laws that threaten to strip Indian Muslims of their citizenship :
    Stop misguiding people on CAA with these words “strip Indian Muslims of their citizenship”. CAA does not take away anyones citizenship!

    3. Population control law:
    How is this related to Hindus or Muslims? And is it not good for the country to control its population looking at the future consequences?

    4. Uniform civil code:
    How is this even close to the Hindutva ideology?

    Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is defined in our Constitution under Article 44 of Directive Principles of State Policy.
    It states that it is the duty of the state to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India.
    In other words we can say that it means one country one rule.

    5. He followed it up with an ill-planned lockdown that is now causing more harm than good:
    What would you have suggested considering that the virus had already spread in the masses, wait for some more time while planning things?

    6. Modi propaganda machinery is already doing its best to keep his voters assured that he’s using his supernatural powers to defeat the virus:
    What is the source you got this clip from and what proves the direct link to Modi’s involvement in getting this created and published?
    If anyone from the public circulates a clip, that does not mean he is working under Modi!
    People do all types of crazy things when bored!

    7. On all three fronts, the opposition has a big window of opportunity, which will last at least a few weeks if not a few months:
    So all you need them to do is to grab this opportunity for a political gain, in short politicize this situation? although there is no guarantee of delivery?

    8. That cognitive dissonance could change if the opposition continues its mature response and remembers that its focus is to convince the masses that it can do a better job of governance than the current dispensation.
    I know that no political party in our coutry is having a clean hand and 100 percent efficiency. But this just seems like exploiting the current situation for political mileage than actual concern!

    9. When Rahul Gandhi suggests a strategy, a different way of dealing with the pandemic, he comes out looking much better than he did with ‘Chowkidar chor hai’. Indeed, Rahul Gandhi can legitimately claim brownie points for warning about the crisis when Modi was partying with Trump at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad.
    This is all he has said: “The lockdown will devastate our poor & weak. It will deliver a heavy blow to the India we love. India isnt’ black & white. Our decisions have to be carefully thought through.
    A more nuanced & compassionate approach is required to deal with this crisis. It’s still not too late.”

    If this type of Philosophical statement is all that is needed to handle this situation on the ground, I appalaud Mr. Rahul!
    And thanks for showing us his great compassionate yet solid leadership skills!

    10. it is a sign of Rahul Gandhi’s maturity that he welcomes an economic package by the government like a constructive opposition leader
    Wow! here we go again – glorification!
    However, talking about the maturity, its still not close to that of a leader even when he is about to hit a half century with only his body but not mind!

    11. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is using the opportunity to cement her attempts to be seen as governance-oriented rather than a politician fighting the onslaught of Hindutva.
    Wish she had actually used the opportunities in the past to be governance-oriented rather than to be just seen as governance-oriented
    Oh! sorry she was busy polishing her skills in:
    Identifying people chanting ‘Ram’, making quick exit from vehicles to order police to arrest citizens as per her wish (All this while protesting intolerance)
    Identifying ‘communists’ mixed in a group of students, rather than answering their questions.

    12. Rahul Gandhi and the old guard could stop fighting in Delhi, the Congress could well highlight this contrast and take credit for it, thus shoring up its claim in national politics.
    Seriously, amazed at the way Rahul Gandhi walks in and out of this article so many times! counted close to 9 times.
    And the way he has been used to reference the Congress party in this article is really amazing!
    Congress is Rahul!

  2. I must say people like you never miss any opportunity to give a threat to Muslim community. That’s why many riots take place, yes you all like those who mind wash youth for Jihad.
    You all are real goon bcz all time you indulge in your business of threatening people..
    Shame on you..

  3. Good analysis by Shivam Shiva. Those who think otherwise kindly take a look at following.

    Coronavirus time lines in India in the year 2020.
    1. January 30 First patient discovered
    2. January 31 WHO declares coronavirus health emergency
    3. February 5 Coronavirus: Window of opportunity to act as per WHO
    4. February 12 Starting on Feb 12 on wards (March 3, 5 etc.) opposition leaders are asking PM to prepare for tsunami of coronavirus
    5. March 11 WHO on officially declared the coronavirus a global pandemic.
    6. March 12 Reports first death due coronavirus
    7. March 19 Janata Curfew speech by PM Modi
    8. March 22 Janata curfew on March 22
    9. March 24 Total lockdown speech by PM Modi on March 24 at 8 pm Indian time
    10. March 25 Total Lockdown in India starts after 4 hours at midnight of March 25
    11. March 26 Finance minister announces a Rs 1.7 Lakh Crore Package
    12. March 28 Start of reverse mass migration of poor people to villages in Bharat due to poor package and being abandoned
    13. March 28 PM Modi’s govt ministers playing antakshari & watching TV and asking rich & well-off Indians in cities to join them
    14. March 31 Front-line health workers still don’t have adequate personal protection equipment.

  4. mr vij Maharashtra and Kerala has the highest number of cases with max number of deaths
    please explain how Non NDA is doing wonderful other than in death rates

  5. Shivam Vij is a die hard prjeduced Rahul Gandhi,supporter (though he denies this) and as some other person commented he is hoping if many people die due to Covid19 Modi will be discredited.why he is given so much respect by Print and NDTV baffles me

  6. ” So long as even a single dog in my country is without food, my whole religion will be to feed it.” Swami Vivekananda

    Total lock-down in New India has created a great economic partition way much bigger than original of partition of 1947.

    “A government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government. ” Alexander Hamilton

  7. The BJP seems to be the only party playing politics at this juncture. There are calls to take over the Delhi government.. migrant workers heading for home is being blamed only on AAP though it was the PMs responsibility to announce that everyone will get food and shelter. Migrant workers are even moving from Gujarat, but the propaganda machine is silent on that!

    Two people died and one lady delivered on the road because ambulances from border areas of Kerala were not allowed to get into Karnataka. Prices of food is rising because Karnataka is not allowing free movement of goods!

    People are not stupid.. all the good was being sold as Modi’s magic.. now that it’s all bad news, people are finally realising that the magic was just an illusion.

    If the opposition can actually get on the ground constructively, and be visible in these hard times, it could be the break they were looking for!

  8. It is idiotic and mischievous to state * the ‘chronological’ CAA-NPR-NRC laws that threaten to strip Indian Muslims of their citizenship”. in the article. Far away from the truth

    • Continue living in denial Mr Rajan. Empathy means putting yourself in the shoes of the affected party. Are you capable of doing that and also checking the past record of the govt with regard to minority affairs? The chronology suggested by the HM as well as a live example of what happened in Assam points in only one direction – what the author has suggested. Anything else is wishful thinking. Reply with reasons why you think the author is wrong not just a temper tantrum. Thanks.

  9. Nice to know. And even more challenging is this implied in your articles Waiting for Godot hope to occur finally in my life here in India.
    Right hand never knows what the left hand is wanting, talking, feeling in India is an observation.
    King Corona has given the people of India many lessons. But our leaders in government and opposition are indifferent, they know pehanao topee only
    Do you feel Indian politicians ever felt the citizens nerves~do they have such Churchill qualities. A NEW LEADER IS EXPECTED
    Observe them behave, meet and confabulate in meets, when the micro is off….all and each on personal revenue improvement programs, I call PRIPS
    Do you find bovinity or some demonetized divinity radiating
    Be very very careful when commenting on Indian politicians, they are a devious lot and evolved in the same grind since 7o years…..PRIPS all the way. No iota of GRIPS GENERAL REVENUE IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMS. We, the people of India in perpetual ATROPHY, unconsciously observe this as we are led within Newtonian absolutes and never the beautiful and more relevant Quantum Reality in every aspect of our simple lives and living. Bi

    • kaisa comment karta hai tu .Mereko tera jaisa comment karneka hai.Even I want to feel what it means to be intellectual .Salute

  10. Lockdown is a necessary evil if only to prevent a catastrophic damage of massive death. There is no alternative and the results are there to see with less than 30 deaths and 1000 affected in a country of our size with 1.34 billion. This is in stark contrast to the figures coming out from developed countries like US., UK Spain, Italy and other European nations. But the lockdown should have been preceded by careful preparation – which was not done. As BBC has reported that the sudden and unprepared lock down has inflicted a massive human tragedy in the form of migrant labourers – the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable section of our society. Migrant labourers should have been advised to stay put in the place they were there. This must have been necessarily followed with organization of massive but distributed community kitchens with good food, sanitized water and baby food. This would have costed money but when it comes to human life, there can be no higher cost. In fact the general lock down is based on that premise – Jhan hai tho Jahan hai. Cornavirus is going to be a watershed in the Indian polity as Vij says. But for different reasons. Our fragile economy, made fragile by Demo and GST, will in all probability break down once the normalcy is restored. When the economy fails, the political system collapses. When people do not get one square meal a day, they system gets shaken. These will take their cost. I offer the following remedy: Stop all the capital expenditure. Put lot of money in the hands of people. Leverage the existing means of production and enhance productivity. Peoples affordability and accessibility coupled with availability of human needs must go up. These will quieten the people. I want the present government to succeed. Its success will mean success of Hindutva. This is what I want.
    a k pattabiraman, Chennai

    • The success of Hinduism is a glorious thing because it will come with everyone benefitting but the success of Hindutva may come at the cost of many innocent people for past imaginary and not imaginary wrongs. In the interest of a just India, I hope for the success of Hinduism.

  11. Wasted my time coming to The Print. Such a mis-information campaign is going on about CAA, when the nation is crisis handling mode. Shameless writers, occupy space.

    • Yet you keep returning to entertain us with a peek into your empty head. Rid us of your inane comments though your sparkling personality will be greatly missed.

  12. Shivam Vij must be the only Indian who is salivating at the possibility of thousands of Indians dying of Covid 19. He has realized that the opposition has no way of returning to power on the basis of their own strengths. Hence Shivam blinded by his hatred for Modi hopes that sacrifice of thousands of innocent Indians (of course excluding his own precious life & that of his near & dear, including the Congress first family); may help restore him & his deities to power.
    It is a shame that Print offers a platform for a person who hates Indians & looks forward to paying with the blood of innocents to progess his agenda to dislodge Modi & the NDA.

    • What do you mean by the ‘sacrifice’ of thousands of Indians?! By what logic will thousands of Corona Virus deaths be a sacrifice?!

      Who exactly has played with the lives of thousands already? Who has already paid with the blood of Indians to further his agenda?! Who was responsible for the Delhi riots?! Which party spewed the hate speech to try and win the elections, which had a direct bearing on the riots?!

      Who delayed the order of protective equipment for healthcare professionals?! Who allowed export of crucial ventilators until very recently even though our health infrastructure is pathetic, except in some states like Kerala – which of course andh bhakts like you hate to acknowledge!

      Why is only 30% of our testing capacity being utilized when all the countries who won the battle tested extensively?!

      Your psychoanalysis of the author did not include even one fact!! Which is why you didn’t understand what he’s trying to say!!

      If thousands die, it’s sheer incompetence by Modi and his team! It’s never a sacrifice. High time you faced this one fact!!

      • Subin, nice write up. Please share a reference if you have for these points:

        Who delayed the order of protective equipment for healthcare professionals?! Who allowed export of crucial ventilators until very recently even though our health infrastructure is pathetic, except in some states like Kerala – which of course andh bhakts like you hate to acknowledge!

        Why is only 30% of our testing capacity being utilized when all the countries who won the battle tested extensively?!

  13. I was praying that something should stop this blatant Hindutva Ideology from spreading.
    And , Covid- 2019 was the answer.

  14. I don’t get how measures to control population is a Hindutva agenda. Hatred for Modi seems o have blunted common sense.

  15. Today we see lot of poor and desperate people a huge population as population control was opposed by religious fundamentalist and rent seeking intellectuals . This same rent seeking intellectuals are no more part of power structure and their frustration and helplessness is clear. Thanks to MODIJI

    • Intellectuals wanted population control. It was religious RSS, the parent of BJP, that wanted the Hindus to have 10 children, so that they cxan remain a majority compared to the Muslims. .

  16. Shivam Vij you are like Rahul Gandhi in the wrong profession
    The crap you write is only worth on the print which nobody reads

  17. CM S S Chouhan is a fine administrator. Quite alone in his peer group. Reports are pouring in of the complete mess the CM of Goa has made in dealing with Covid 19. Even a competent Joint Secretary could run Goa.

  18. So the strength of opposition in our depends on natural calamities and not on what they are capable of. The reason why opposition may go to the extent of finding solace in this calamity driven difficulties to the government is the poor have been kept not only as poor but also ignorant due to illiteracy by the parties that were in power for decades post independence. Sad. Anyways these opposition parties are not even capable of exploiting the situation, for they can’t think good to the people.

  19. Political capital can also be used to restore the economy to health. It is not carved in stone that it should be expended on hard Hindutva projects that do not improve the lives of ordinary Indians. 2. After the pandemic runs its course, the government will confront a devastated economy. Led by its own tax revenues shrinking drastically, no fiscal space for large stimulus packages. It will need to undertake structural reforms that it has failed to undertake since 2014. Neither the virus nor poverty responds well to event management.

  20. This writer biased towards CMs of BJP ruled state is clearly visible. While he praised states with worse numbers and no mechanism control his propaganda is quite visible. States like UP and Odisha and Bhiar, Karnatka needed mention but he skipped it. Seems he is handsomely paid by 10 janpath.

  21. As usual virtual world dwellers. Marketing of Mamata may feel good on facebook but people are watching as local TMC netas are now having another new avatar, hoarder. Ditto for Udhav; lot of articles on his leadership, one of the first states to effect lockdown, still unable to ensure people have rations. This is ground reality. Raul is being watched with amusement as he is now trapped in India with people he doesnt like. Gehlot has botched terribly. Vijayan tried to pose as model state but undercut terribly by his voters and reality. Kejriwal just got caught driving away purbanchalis at the dead of night and shedding crocodile tears. Now people are looking up to Yogi who arranged thousands of buses overnight to rescue Wuhan corona refugees. And Naveen and jagan Reddy emerging as model cases. Shocked!

  22. Hi Shivam,

    Think sensibly before writing this junk/shit
    1) ” the ‘chronological’ CAA-NPR-NRC laws that threaten to strip Indian Muslims of their citizenship ” – Its wrong..
    2)” such Hindutva policies — a population control law, and a uniform civil code” — These are national laws not hinduthwa laws..

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