Cynically combatting Covid-19 in India

Politicians pick polls over public health

Politics

January 5, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Cynically combatting Covid-19 in India

PM Modi addressing crowd in foundation stone laying ceremony for Major Dhyan Chand Sports University in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh (Photo: PIB)

As a potential third wave of Covid-19 looms large over India, governments, both federal and state, have resorted to by now familiar tactics – night curfews, limiting public transport capacity, shutting down markets, malls and much more. Yet, the same leaders spend their days gathering thousands of people for political rallies in preparation for the upcoming assembly elections in five states.

On Tuesday, hours after chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tested positive for Covid-19, the Delhi government announced further restrictions on movement in the national capital, imposing a weekend curfew, to add to the night curfew already in place, in addition to having closed gyms, cinemas & spas, besides curtailing number of people allowed in weddings and ordering shops to shut on alternate days.

As infections due to Omicron variant of coronavirus spread rapidly, a number of other state governments have taken similar steps. However, as was the case in the first two waves of the pandemic in India, the actions lack coherence, reasoning and scientific basis. Imposing curfews, whether night or weekend curfews as well as shutting down markets partially or forcing offices of all sizes to work at reduced capacities have all been tried across India and all have consistently failed miserably in curbing the pandemic from spreading.

Because while on the one hand the movements and civic liberties of common people are being curbed aggressively, the politicians themselves have been consistently guilty of holding political events, especially massive poll rallies, that are being organised, every day and several times a day, by all parties in the five states where assembly elections are slated to be held later this year.

At all of these rallies, in sombre reminder of the events before the second wave last year, none of the Covid-19 guidelines are followed, with thousands of people mulling for hours together, closely packed in the meeting grounds, without masks or any other sanitary protection that is repeatedly advised by the very same politicians every time they talk of tackling Covid-19.

Take, for instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Over the last six weeks, he has been criss-crossing the key state of Uttar Pradesh innumerable times in order to solicit support for his Bharatiya Janata Party, even as it faces a very strong challenge from the key opposition party, the Samajwadi Party. The SP’s leader, Akhilesh Yadav, himself has been on a campaign spree for the past two months, highlight that he is drawing mammoth crowds and claiming that it points towards a strong desire of resident of Uttar Pradesh for a change of government.

Similarly, other parties, notably the Indian National Congress has seen party secretary general Priyanka Gandhi assemble large crowds, notably of girls and women, the focus of her campaign.

Uttar Pradesh may be the biggest game in town, but it is not the only one. Electoral rallies are also being organised in other states like Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur and with Modi being the constant fixture in all these states, as he mounts his party’s campaign to face a tough challenge in almost all the five states.

It is not just the assembly elections. Large-scale political gatherings have also been a norm even for elections to local bodies, like the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation, during which Kejriwal addressed not just campaign rallies, but also led a large street march to celebrate the surprisingly good performance by his Aam Aadmi Party that emerged as the largest party in the corporation.

Barely a week after this march, where he along with thousands of his supporters were seen walking without masks, Kejriwal has tested positive to Covid-19. Even as Kejriwal isolated himself, within hours the BJP announced that Modi would be addressing the largest-ever political gathering at Ferozepur in Punjab, despite the prevailing restrictions under Covid-19 whereby schools, gyms and numerous other establishments have been closed and strict curbs on movement of people imposed.

But the rally will go ahead and the BJP says it will bring over 300,000 persons by buses from all over the state, indicating the extent to which Modi and the BJP are desperate to make a mark in Punjab, where opposition has been the strongest to the three controversial Farm Laws of 2020, which were recently repealed in the winter session of the Parliament, after a year-long protest by thousands of farmers at Delhi’s borders. Modi has tied up with former Congressman and three-time Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to try and wean the Punjab voters away from the ruling Congress and towards the BJP-led alliance.

Back in New Delhi, which also will see local body elections in the next few months, thousands of BJP supporters blocked roads for hours on Monday, leading to large-scale crowding of these areas. Goes without saying that the party leaders and workers alike were without any masks and the Delhi Police was pleased to simply stand by and smile benignly on the large-scale violations by the BJP, while all over the city, the cops have been imposing heavy fines on the ordinary people caught in public without masks.

Other mindless restrictions, targeting only the common people, that have been imposed are limiting occupancy in urban public transport, even taxis, leading to huge rush, if not in the train or bus, then at the train stations and bus stops. These limitations make little sense as most of the local rides are limited to 30-60 minutes, while an airplane journey, which could last 10-15 hours, still plies at full capacity, as do long-distance train journeys that take 24-60 hours.

The list of unreasonable decisions is too long to be recounted here. Despite the world being in its third year of dealing with the pandemic, the politicians, notably in India, have proven to be inept and incapable of mounting a suitable response to curb the pandemic or even in leading by example. Starting from Modi down to the local politicians or the police, not sporting masks or following other guidelines has become another way of showing their privileged status and entitlements. Time to immediately end this hypocritical and dangerous display of cynical behaviour.

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