Unhappier Times for Democracy
STORIES, ANALYSES, EXPERT VIEWS
Of all the States that went to the polls last month, West Bengal saw an unprecedented number of public rallies and meetings organised on a mega-scale. The BJP outdid all other parties. The Opposition was not far behind, particularly the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and even the Left and the Congress. This, at a time when the pandemic was raging its ugly head for all to see.
Cancellation of rallies by parties came too late. This makes as journalist write: “Can the democratic spirit freely exercise its franchise if disease and death stalk the voter?”
Harish Khare, another journalist says “we have arrived at this sorry pass, because arrogance and cynicism have entrenched themselves in the new national ruling elite of new India….As a nation, we are in for unhappy days and months ahead…”
Politics in the ‘Age of Hatred’
The generic issue is that despite the huge second wave, India remains hopelessly divided, writes Gurcharan Das (former CEO of Procter & Gamble India). “A straightforward problem of vaccinating our people becomes the subject of political football. While ‘aam admi’ (common man) scrambles helplessly from hospital to hospital in search of oxygen, a bed, a ventilator, our political parties behave like prehistoric tribes, fighting elections as though they are battles for extinction. They don’t even share a common vocabulary to empathise in this Age of Hatred.”
For example, when former PM Manmohan Singh wrote a sensible letter to PM Modi, suggesting ways to ramp up the vaccination programme, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, accuses the party of contributing to the second Covid wave by creating irresponsible hesitancy of the public against the vaccine in some Congress-ruled states.
Not to be outdone, on the strategy of vaccination, Rahul Gandhi attacked the policy for “no free vaccines for 18-45 year olds, middlemen brought in without price controls”. Sonia Gandhi termed it “brazen profiteering from misery”. Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, on her part, blamed Modi for manufacturing the second Covid wave to win the Bengal election.
Democracy, writes Das “accepts differences and disagreement but under the basic rules of cooperation. Today, there is such rage, hatred among opponents, it’s an uncivil war…….
Excessive faith in the ability of the state: A lesson to be learnt, says Das is that “India’s politicians may have divided the republic but they remain united in an excessive faith in the ability of the state. They distrust private citizens, private enterprises, private NGOs. Had they trusted society and the market, the initial testing and vaccinating strategies would have been more sensible. Instead they trusted the bureaucracy……..”
India is no longer free: Arguing that India is no longer free, Das writes criticism of the vaccine policy, was not only Congress, but “came in abundance from economists, policy wonks, and of course, the argumentative Indian went berserk on social media. These are not signs of an unfree country.”
And while BJP has long been the object of condescension by the old elite, it therefore “harbours deep resentment,” the “Congress has been in power so long, it has an unconscious belief in its own superiority. With noblesse oblige, it treats BJP contemptuously as the nouveau riche.
In the end, it is the people that “are suffering in these dreadful Covid times in an Age of Hatred.”
(Asia News Agency Editorial Board)