Tuesday, 24 May, 2022
HomeOpinionIndian politics scripts modern-day Raag Darbari in Covid

Indian politics scripts modern-day Raag Darbari in Covid

If you thought India's leaders would rise above personal and political gains and people's miseries during Covid will change their behaviour, then you were mistaken.

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The world seems to have come to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some countries imposed complete lockdown, others preferred partial lockdown. India’s nationwide lockdown was the most stringent. But the one thing that did not stop even during this crisis was politics. Especially in India, political bustle has been at its zenith. There were no bottlenecks; rather, the Covid-19 pandemic gave our leaders a new issue to do politics with.

That politics continues to thrive is not a cause for heartache but political parties made no distinction between moral and immoral. If you were under the impression that this calamity would be a clarion call for our leaders to rise above considerations of political gains and bring a change in their behaviour, then you were mistaken. When neither Britain nor America displayed politics of a new kind, why expect a different picture from India? The behaviour of the leaders did not change. Like the saying goes, if the horse befriends the grass, what will the horse feed on?

Also read: Modi faces no political costs for suffering he causes. He’s just like Iran’s Ali Khamenei

Communalisation of a crisis

Politics kicked off with Tablighi Jamaat members reporting Covid-19 positive. As the Muslim community became the target, India’s political class began to count the losses and gains of communal politics.

Then came the phase of people helping each other out. States such as Bihar and West Bengal, where assembly elections are due, political parties had a field day playing the blame game in the name of Covid.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s West Bengal unit alleged that the Mamata Banerjee government and administration were obstructing their relief work. The BJP alleged that its workers were being stopped under the pretext of lockdown rules while workers of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) were being allowed to do relief work. Union Minister Babul Supriyo and Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta continued to accuse Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of using the pandemic for political gains — but this targeting too was being done for political mileage.

If the Centre kept the pressure on the West Bengal government over its Covid data or its refusal to implement the Ayushman Bharat scheme, the state kept accusing the Centre of step-motherly treatment. During the conference call between chief ministers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee even spoke about politics being done at the time of pandemic.

Also read: Covid lockdown has ended only opposition politics in India. BJP’s shop is very much open

Relief materials and then migrants

Relief material has always been a publicity tool for leaders. And with so many daily wage labourers turning jobless, then be it the Centre or states, everyone is thinking in terms of votes. As the saying goes, every crisis can be an opportunity — and so, every leader or party found opportunities in the migrant crisis. Leaders plastered their photographs on food packets meant for distribution, along with the names and symbols of their political parties.

Whether it was Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh or Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar or Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala or Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel or Mamta Banerjee – everyone had the same approach. Objections were also raised but all parties were equally guilty. All parties were looking for ways to gain from ‘charity’.

When the exodus of migrants started, the plight of hungry, thirsty labourers walking barefoot on the roads and highways debunked the benefits of the government-enforced lockdown and all political parties saw this as an opportunity to reap a bumper political harvest.

The Narendra Modi government, which until now was confident of having set a record in controlling Covid-19, looked concerned as photos of hungry, thirsty workers began to flood social media and traditional news media. All political parties found an opportunity in this as well.

The call for opening railways gained traction and there was a scramble among all the states to be seen favourably by the migrants. The idea of governmental cooperation turned into a political race. The benevolence shown and the number of trains arranged became pawns on the political chessboard. The Shramik ‘Special’ Express triggered a round of political allegations and counter allegations.

Also read: Modi got all the credit for lockdown. Now, he wants states to share risk of unlocking India

From Bengal to UP to MP, politics didn’t stop

Given that West Bengal is due for elections next year, it became a blazing issue there. When Mamata Banerjee talked about running 105 trains daily, the BJP remained steadfast in its allegations that the chief minister does not care for migrant workers belonging to her state and does not want to call them back to Bengal. Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal did not shy away from the political rhetoric either. The question as to who would pay the train fare for workers also became a topic of political discussion. Congress president Sonia Gandhi offered to pay the migrants’ railway fares while Rahul Gandhi used the fare debate to target the PM CARES fund. The BJP argued that the Congress was politicising the issue.

Soon, Priyanka Gandhi offered to help migrant workers by sending buses and tried to corner the Uttar Pradesh government of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. While the Adityanath government tried to put the Congress on the back foot by demanding the registration number of buses, Priyanka Gandhi advised the government on social media to not indulge in politics and said that the Congress is working with the spirit of service. Meanwhile, the buses remained empty, the migrants continued to be helpless and politics wallowed in immorality.

The political atmosphere in Madhya Pradesh was so charged that neither Congress leader and former chief minister Kamal Nath nor his successor Shivraj Singh Chouhan could spare a thought for the migrants. Everyone in Madhya Pradesh was so engrossed with ‘resort’ politics and trying to secure a majority that the pandemic and the responsibility towards the public was completely forgotten. Consequently, there was a rapid increase in the number of infections and a lack of facilities.

Now, the BJP and its supporters are busy with their gamcha and chooran strategies for the state bypolls. The leaders are caught up with electoral politics and the vote bank remains the centripetal force in all announcements.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was reminded of makhana (fox nut) farmers while announcing the government’s Rs 1 lakh crore financial package, just like Modi was reminded of the taste of litti chokha at Delhi’s Hunar Haat in a bid to win over Bihar — another state that has become a hotbed for politics during the coronavirus crisis. Ration distribution, quarantine facilities and the condition of migrant workers is a fertile ground for political rhetoric. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s Tejashwi Yadav remained active, arranged buses for the migrants and maintained an aggressive stance against the ruling coalition of BJP, Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party.

All in all, the Covid-19 did not hinder the political tug of war in India. On the contrary, politics thrived during this period but not all politics was healthy. It is brimming with as much negativity and animosity as it does on ordinary days. The difference has been the absence of protests and processions.

During the lockdown and through the Zoom app, aggressive politics continued. Social media and political leaders forgot the demarcation between moral and immoral and continued to indulge in the kind of politics Shrilal Shukla wrote about in his book Raag Darbari and which has only created a feeling of hatred and animosity in the people against politics and leaders.

Views are personal.

This article has been translated from Hindi. Read the original here.

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  1. Why was this article written? The writer says views are personal but he hasn’t really given any views in the article, this wasn’t an opinion piece it was more of a “ye hua fir ye hua fir ye hua gossip gab”.

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