What is the Bharatiya Janata Party doing when it isn’t fighting elections? It is fighting elections. This is precisely what the ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatras‘ of ministers of the new Narendra Modi Cabinet prove. Despite there being no immediate election and with the threat of Covid still looming large, the BJP, through its ministers, is busy organising crowded rallies and focusing on politics, instead of governance.
Evidently, the BJP of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah has not learnt any lessons from the devastating second wave of the pandemic, and the dangerously packed Kumbh Mela and election rallies that preceded it.
These crowded ‘Jan Ashirwad’ rallies are nothing but an imprudent invitation to a third Covid wave. What is the pressing need to hold them? Why must the BJP make such a pomp and show of seeking people’s ‘blessings’? There are no elections until early next year. This is the time to focus on governance and administrative affairs, especially since the country is still trying to recover from a debilitating wave of the pandemic. But instead of that, ministers in the Union Cabinet are busy taking out rallies and creating a grand political spectacle.
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The BJP is a repeat offender on this count. Of course, no political party can be absolved of the blame of holding rallies and public gatherings in the run-up to the assembly elections earlier this year. But there is something to be said about the ruling party, the government of the day, going on with elections as if no pandemic engulfs us, and as if votes matter more than the lives of the voters.
As I have argued before, with the prime minister and home minister addressing massive election rallies, people began to assume everything was ‘normal’, that Covid was no longer a threat. Allowing the Kumbh Mela amid a raging pandemic only to appease their political constituency was beyond just careless and irresponsible. It was near-criminal.
More than the crowds attending these rallies, it is the messaging of big public roadshows and melas that is more dangerous, reaching out to a wide cross-section of people and setting in a sense of complacency. PM Modi may talk about the need to follow Covid protocol in his addresses to the nation and during his Mann Ki Baat radio show, but his utterances are meaningless if he simultaneously attends unmasked, overcrowded rallies. Modi understands well the far-reaching effects of his messaging. Add to it, the PM’s Twitter handle was posting pictures and visuals of “massive rallies”, as if it were something to be proud of in the middle of a crowd-loving virus wreaking havoc.
Speaking at a massive rally in Bardhaman. https://t.co/PF05LCuYww
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 12, 2021
The second wave of the pandemic that followed soon after will remain etched in our memories for decades to come. One might have thought the across-country devastation would have tugged at the conscience of the government, and other political parties, and shaken them out of their stupor, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. No virus, after all, can come in the way of Modi-Shah’s BJP fulfilling its political ambitions.
Also read: Poll rallies to Kumbh Mela — Modi-Shah’s conscience must take a look at latest Covid surge
The fresh wave of recklessness
Consider this. Thirty-nine newly inducted ministers of the Modi Cabinet are taking part in the ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatras’ across as many as 22 states. These are either ministers who have just entered the Cabinet, or those who have got new portfolios. The logical thing to do would be to focus on understanding their ministries, diving deep into them and making governance the priority.
More importantly, how responsible is it on the part of senior ministers to gather crowds and invite the wrath of the virulent virus? My colleague Shanker Arnimesh, who trailed environment minister Bhupender Yadav on his yatras, tells me there was a decent crowd and “nobody bothered about wearing masks, especially in the hinterland”.
In Maharashtra, numerous FIRs have been filed against BJP member Narayan Rane’s yatras. Politics aside, the fact is that Covid norms are being flouted and caution throw to the winds. In this case, to the virus.
What is the purpose of these yatras? ‘Public outreach, display of inclusivity, enthusing cadres’, finds my colleague Neelam Pandey. Can none of these be done without such grand show of strength in the middle of a pandemic? And why should ministers have to get involved in something that is very clearly a political exercise?
There’s always a good reason to gather crowds, but it’s never good enough to do so during a pandemic. Elections are critical to a democracy, it’s argued. But should they not be more muted when the virus is the biggest threat? Kumbh Mela is to respect the religious sentiments of Hindus, goes the pitch. But coronavirus doesn’t care about religious sentiments.
Even by BJP’s standards of carelessness, the Jan Ashirwad rallies are a recklessly arrogant invitation to the virus to strike once again. And, for a government that thrives on the promise of ‘sushasan‘ (good governance), ministers with new portfolios busy doing public outreach and seeking ‘blessings’ instead of concentrating on learning the ropes may be beneficial optics, but are a tell-all sign of what the Modi government stands for — politics above all else.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)